The country’s “chronic” shortage of engineers in municipalities is having a detrimental effect on the quality of drinking water and the ability of municipalities to prevent crippling water losses.

This is according to Manglin Pillay, CEO of the SA Institution of Civil Engineers (Saice), who was speaking after the release of a damning report into the state of the country’s water services last week.

The “Municipal Benchmarking Initiative” report from 2015 – compiled by the SA Local Government Association and the Water Research Commission – found the country didn’t even have 10% of the required number of engineers needed to adequately run the country’s municipal water networks.

There were, according to the findings, just 0.4 engineers to every 100000 people, a far cry from the idea of five per 100000 Saice says South Africa needs.

The report states: “There is a chronic shortage of municipal engineers in South Africa.

“Of great concern is that most municipalities have a significant infrastructure asset value, but do not have the engineering capacity to manage those assets.”

A short-term benchmarking target of 0.9 engineers per 100000 people had been set, a number that the report calls “far from ideal”.

The report found that even if the number of water service technicians were added to the number of water engineers in municipalities, the national average would still only sit at 1.9 per 100000 people, less than half of the ideal ratio.

This emphasised “the significant technical staffing gap that currently exists”, the report found.

Pillay said: “There are absolutely dire consequences. If there are no engineers then nobody is doing any planning – and planning isn’t for a year or two, it’s 20, 30 or 40 years down the line.”

The shortage meant infrastructure programmes were often not adequate, and that infrastructure was not properly maintained, he added.

The report also found that as the country faced a water crisis, municipalities were struggling to deal with high levels of water loss.

Researchers analysed how much water and revenue was lost by municipalities. They found that the national average for water lost to leaks and wastage stood at 34%, up from the previous year’s 33%.

Cape Town was the best metro, with only a 21.8% loss of water.

According to the Water and Sanitation Department, about R7-billion in water wastage is unaccounted for annually. This is about 1.58billion kilolitres, enough to fill a third of the Gariep Dam.

Passing the hose

One in five South Africans “do nothing” to save water and more than 60% of households do not know how much water they use, hampering conservation efforts.

Research by the SA Local Government Association and the Water Research Commission among 2500 people last year, released on Friday, found 88% believed tap water was safe to drink, 7% more than in 2011, and 79% used one or more measures to save water, such as not leaving taps running (50%), fixing leaking taps (41%), cutting garden watering (18%) and collecting rainwater (6%).

Penwell Dlamini

Source: Skills evaporate in water sector