pdf Popular

Municipal failure, unequal access and conflicts over water: A hydrosocial perspective on water insecurity of rural households in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Karen Lebek
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany; karen.lebek@hu-berlin.de

Michèle Twomey
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany; micheletwomey@gmail.com

Tobias Krueger
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany; tobias.krueger@hu-berlin.de

ABSTRACT: Despite South Africa’s modern water legislation and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, over three million South Africans, most of whom live in rural areas, still lack access to a basic supply of safe drinking water. This case study examines the implications of unequal levels of household water insecurity (HWI) among rural households and communities; it considers the effects on their health and productivity and on their power relations with other households. We first ask whether municipal water services have succeeded in improving water access and reducing HWI for served households in the study area; we then investigate misuse and vandalism of municipal water infrastructure – the reason it occurs and how it interrelates with unequal access and HWI. We understand HWI in both a physical and a relational sense and employ the hydrosocial cycle as a lens to explore its relational dimension. Our research indicates that the District Municipality responsible for water services has largely failed to improve water access and reduce HWI for users of standpipes and users of unimproved sources/surface water, with adverse effects on health and productivity; only users of illegal yard taps benefit from water services. Partial coverage, incremental infrastructure development, neglect of infrastructure maintenance and corruption have produced uneven power relations that result in conflicts over water, vandalism and misuse of water infrastructure.

KEYWORDS: Household water insecurity, water services, vandalism, water infrastructure, power relations, South Africa