A water expert from the University of Free State has blamed poor infrastructure maintenance for chronic water shortages in QwaQwa. Professor Andries Jordaan says although below average rainfalls have been experienced, he’s adamant that’s not the real cause of the problem.

The troubled Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality has been battling water shortages for over a decade. Residents recently embarked on violent protests, demanding constant water supply in QwaQwa, Harrismith and Kestell.

Professor Jordaan says the one major contributing factor is poor administration.

“So the problem now with the slightest dry period they experienced it as a drought. But in my opinion I think it’s a man-made drought. Because all the indications are that rainfall is slightly below average. It’s definitely not extreme drought. In defence, I must say there was no snow in the past three years and normally the Fika Patso will fill up with snow, but that’s the small contributing factor. I think the main thing is poor maintenance, poor planning, and poor administration. I don’t even think QwaQwa has an engineer who can manage water resources.”

South African Weather Forecaster Quinton Jacobs says a drought spell across the province was broken in April 2019.

“From meteorological point of view, the drought seems to have been broken pretty much in the entire Free State. If we look at the rainfall figures for places where we have data in the north eastern Free State and Drakensberg Mountains you can see there’s been good rains in February, March and April. So there was enough rain in 2019 to break the drought.”

Government says a permanent water solution in the area will cost more than R2 billion.

MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Thembeni Nxangisa says a team of experts, which includes engineers and hydrologists, has been assembled to turn the situation around. Nxangisa insists that good rains are needed to bring normality.

“So what we are experiencing currently is hydrological drought, which is the proper explanation of it. You will see all the dam levels have gone low including your Katse Dam that is 37%. Your Mohale Dam, which is one of your biggest dam as well, is 20%. What I need to explain is that in QwaQwa we have three dams which is Metsi Matsho, Fika Patso and Sterkfontein. Sterkfontein does not receive water from the source, which is the Tugela mountains. They receive water through pumping it back from the Tugela River into Sterkfontein.”

Government has conceded that ageing and unmaintained infrastructure has worsened the situation. Some of the pipelines haven’t been maintained for more than 30 years.

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