Water Crisis: Verulam community writes to the United Nations

A protest was held in Verulam, north of Durban. Picture: Supplied

A protest was held in Verulam, north of Durban. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 20, 2024


Durban — The Verulam Water Crisis Committee, who are faced with ongoing water challenges in the northern areas of eThekwini, have written to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Roshan Lil-Ruthan, spokesperson for the committee, penned his thoughts on what he considers a human rights violation and water crisis in Verulam. Lil-Ruthan calls for intervention after the city failed to meet its deadline of getting piped water supply to households on February 15.

Lil-Ruthan wrote to the OHCHR because he was unhappy with the way the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) handled matters with the eThekwini Municipality.

The SAHRC KZN Water Inquiry report into the province's municipalities and water authorities stated that residents’ rights had been violated as they had not been provided with clean drinking water.

The inquiry was conducted in response to the current water crisis in KZN, where many have protested and called for action. The commission's provincial office said it had received more than 600 complaints regarding access to water since 2020.

The commission has given governance entities 12 months to implement its recommendations, failing which further steps will be taken, including litigation, which will be brought before the Constitutional Court in instances where recommendations have been ignored. It found that there were “systemic failures in water provisioning, and the violation of multiple human rights”.

Lil-Ruthan said despite raising concerns with the SAHRC, their lack of serious action has resulted in blatant infringements on “our” rights. He claimed the SAHRC has been overly accommodating of the eThekwini Municipality and less serious about the plight of the communities.

Roshan Lil-Ruthan of the Verulam Water Crisis Committee. Picture supplied

He said this representation also emphasises the detrimental effects of the water crisis on communities, healthcare, education, the elderly and frail, and the local economy.

In the letter, Lil-Ruthan highlighted the mismanagement of water and sanitation by the eThekwini Municipality, including the lack of maintenance of critical infrastructure.

“In support of our plea for intervention, we refer to relevant United Nations legislation. The situation has worsened to a humanitarian catastrophe and we cannot abandon our community to a monitoring exercise. We need protection as the residents and citizens of South Africa living in Verulam and surrounding suburbs,” Lil-Ruthan said.

The water crisis has had a significant impact on healthcare services in the area, he said. Hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities struggle to maintain proper hygiene standards, endangering both patients and medical personnel. Inadequate water access affects the ability to sterilise medical equipment, potentially leading to increased infection rates and compromised healthcare outcomes, he added.

“The frail and elderly members of our community are particularly vulnerable during the water crisis. Many rely on assistance with daily tasks, including personal hygiene, which becomes incredibly challenging without a consistent water supply,“ Lil-Ruthan said.

He highlighted that the schools struggle to maintain proper sanitation facilities, compromising the health and safety of students. Inadequate water supply disrupts regular school operations, leading to frequent closures and academic setbacks for students.

“Inadequate water supply disrupts production, reduces productivity and puts job security at risk. Furthermore, employees face health risks and safety hazards in workplaces that cannot maintain proper hygiene standards,” he said.

Among other things, he mentioned that businesses reliant on water, such as car washes and laundromats, experience a decline in revenue or may have to shut down entirely. This economic downturn threatens livelihoods and contributes to a further deterioration of the local economy.

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