New Service Could Improve Sanitation Conditions For More Than 350 000 People Living in Cape Town’s Informal Settlements
With hundreds of people using a toilet stall each day and no routine maintenance facilities - like this one in BM section, Khayelitsha - quickly fall into disrepair.
The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has made a formal submission to the City of Cape Town which outlines the need for a new service to maintain more than 13 700 permanent flush toilets in the City’s informal settlements servicing at least 350 000 residents. In many of these communities one toilet stall can be shared between a hundred households, yet they currently receive no routine maintenance from the City. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and Utilities Head Shehaam Sims have both recently announced that they intend on rolling-out this service as a matter of urgency. The SJC has been actively campaigning for the introduction of such a service for over a year, and welcome the City’s commitment to see it realised. It is now critical that sufficient funds are allocated in the upcoming municipal budget cycle, and that stakeholders are meaningfully engaged on how such a program can be implemented expediently and effectively.
The SJC has proposed that the new service includes:
- Cleaning and sanitizing of toilets and surrounding area;
- Cleaning and sanitizing of standpipes and surrounding areas;
- Basic plumbing to repair minor faults;
- Basic handiwork to repair enclosures;
- Stocking of toilets with amenities such as soap;
- Monitoring conditions and reporting faults to the relevant departments.
The lack of these services has a dire impact on hundreds of thousands living in the City’s informal settlements. Given high levels of communal use, toilets quickly become unhygienic and unsafe. When they eventually fall into disrepair they can remain in such a state for months or years, reducing already limited access to facilities. Residents have to walk increasingly long distances to find functioning toilets, rendering them vulnerable to crime. Water sources similarly turn into sources of illness, as hundreds of people must make use of standpipes surrounded by contaminated water that is seldom treated or cleaned.
The proposed janitorial service cannot be viewed in isolation from other existing services in informal settlements, such as solid waste management and temporary chemical toilet maintenance. These services are outsourced by the City to private contractors who often provide an inadequate level of service. There are problems with accountability and monitoring which need to be addressed – a concern which the City has acknowledged. It is important that measures be put in place from the outset to prevent similar problems with the janitorial service.
The janitorial service must also be seen as one important intervention in a series needed to address broader systemic challenges. Approximately half a million people in the City live without access to basic sanitation. While this new service will drastically improve the quality of existing permanent toilets, more facilities need to be delivered to communities that have insufficient toilets. The SJC and its partner organisations have illustrated a willingness to work with the City to ensure progressive realization of sanitation to all Capetonians. The City must call for wide participation in developing a multi-sectoral plan to ensure the delivery of sanitation facilities to all in need.
Cape Town is not the only city facing challenges related to sanitation in informal settlements. Sixteen million people across South Africa do not have access to basic sanitation facilities. As such – and in light of ongoing work on sanitation provision and policy at various levels of government and within certain Chapter 9 institutions – the SJC will also be delivering our submission to the national and provincial (Western Cape) Departments of Human Settlements, The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, The National Ministerial Sanitation Task team, The South African Local Government Association, The Human Rights Commission, and the Public Protector. We will be calling on all of these parties to recommend that similar interventions be considered in other municipalities across South Africa.
The SJC and its partners continue to work with the City of Cape Town to ensure that conditions in informal settlements are improved. The City must now show that they are equally committed to this vision by allocating adequate resources to ensure existing commitments translate into action.
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