Dry taps leave residents facing difficult Ramadan while Joburg Water scrambles to fix interruptions

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Yasmin and her family have been living out of buckets for 10 weeks now due to water interruptions in Johannesburg.
Yasmin and her family have been living out of buckets for 10 weeks now due to water interruptions in Johannesburg.

Filling and refilling buckets of water has become a part of everyday life in Fordsburg. Since January, the community has either spent days without water or had water for only two to 12 hours at night mostly.

Cleaning, cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry have become tedious chores.

For mother of three, Yasmin Asmal-Garda, mornings now start at 5am with heating water from buckets in a kettle. On the days that water runs from the taps, mornings start at 8am to beat the rush; that is before they run out of warm water from the geyser they share with other tenants in the building.

After bathing, the grey water is reused to fill the toilet systems in order to flush. When water runs out during their loadshedding slot, Yasmin and her husband have to carry five 20 litre buckets all the way to their flat on the sixth floor, using stairs. The couple cannot stay without water because they have three children under the age of six years.

“Reduced water has caused us to eat unhealthy foods like take outs or simple foods like bread and cheese,” Yasmin says.

Feeding their eight-month-old baby has become an even difficult task as milk bottles require water.

Over the past 10 weeks, their kids have also contracted urinary tract infections (UTIs).

“[The] reason why UTIs have been contracted is because I limited the amount of times my son uses [and] flushes the toilet and my potty-training daughter had to go back into diapers.”

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Given that it is also Ramadan, the Muslim family have been unable to observe their fasting season properly.

“Water remains our primary cleansing source for five daily prayers that require ablution before praying. This has been very difficult to perform and as a result, many prayers have been missed.”

Yasmin adds that, “It makes us very frustrated especially more so with our fasting month. We’re also very disappointed as we are taxpayers and pay our rates, water bills and electricity and don't expect this to happen.

“Also, cockroaches have started coming because the drains and pipes are dry and empty.”

To get water, Fordsburg residents have had to resort to using fire hoses while businesses in the area have made use of borehole water.

The disappointed mother says the City of Johannesburg has not even provided water tankers, despite being aware of their situation and claiming to have provided “alternative water solutions to critically affected areas”.

Instead, they were told about Mayor Thapelo Ahmad’s 120 days action plan to visit various wards in the city to get a sense of residents’ concerns.

Upon probing the cause of their water interruptions, the residents found that there were no burst pipes, as they had suspected. There were, however, “power failures at Vereeniging and Eikenhof power pump stations resulting in depleted reservoirs in affected areas,” Yasmin tells Drum.

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On 26 March, the city’s mayor and the MMC for environment and infrastructure services, Jack Sekwaila issued a join statement declaring the water interruptions a top priority.

“Johannesburg’s Water’s system has been under immense pressure in the past 10 weeks due to Rand Water experiencing various failures on its bulk infrastructure,” the statement reads.

The statement cites vandalism and power failures as reasons behind these interruptions across the city.

“We have noted with great concern and sympathy the mounting frustrations from our residents, and we would like to take this opportunity to profusely apologise for the disruption to their daily lives and the inconvenience this has caused,” it further reads.

In response to Drum’s queries on the matter, Joburg Water’s Nolwazi Dhlamini assures that, “The entity has an intervention plan in place. To begin the process of recovery, Johannesburg Water will implement a balancing strategy that involves closing the outlet daily. This will result in a restricted water supply for customers. There is new infrastructure to increase the storage capacity for the Brixton system. The project has been awarded and will start in the next month.”

Yasmin has hope that this will finally be resolved as they have been having water at low pressure for the past three days - the longest uninterrupted period since January.

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