South Africa: The problem of paying for water

A new report by leading health experts on behalf of the Municipal Services Project, The Problem of Handwashing and Paying for Water, found that pre-paid water metres have a negative effect on household hygiene, with insufficient handwashing increasing the risk of water-borne diseases and other health problems in poor communities. The report argued: "In a country where poverty is rife, where there is soaring unemployment, where there is a massive housing backlog, and where hunger is a daily reality, it is unrealistic to expect poor people to purchase, in advance, a basic good such as water." The findings give weight to the legal challenge launched in the High Court in July 2006 by a coalition collection of community organisations and NGOs opposing current water policies — and Soweto residents, which is demanding that Johannesburg Water's unilateral decision to impose the pre-paid meters be declared unconstitutional and illegal.