How much free water do you need?

The City of Johannesburg limited the free basic water supply to Phiri Township residents to 25 litres per person per day or 6 kilolitres per household per month.  It also introduced a pre-payment water system.  This meant that residents could only get water if they had pre-paid for supply of water.

The High Court set aside this arrangement finding it to be unconstitutional and unlawful and ordered the City to provide each Respondent and other similarly placed residents of Phiri Township with a free basic water supply of 50 litres per person per day.

On appeal the Court stated that the provisions of the Water Services Act, together with the regulations promulgated in terms thereof, were not intended to detract from the right of everyone of access to sufficient water in terms of the Constitution.  They were intended to achieve a progressive realization of those rights.  Circumstances, however, differed which made a dramatic difference to the water required by different households and residents.  The Court held that a right of access to sufficient water could not be anything less than a right of access to such quantity of water that was required for dignified human existence.

The quantity of water that was required for dignified human assistance would depend on the circumstances of the individual concerned.  In the case of the residents of Phiri, the evidence established that the minimum supply provided for in the legislation and the regulations did not constitute sufficient water for leading a life in human dignity.

On the evidence presented the Court held that 42 litres of water per resident in Phiri per day would constitute sufficient water in compliance with the Constitution.

Although Section 27 (1) of the Water Systems Act provided that everyone had the right to sufficient water, everyone did not have a claim for the immediate fulfillment of that right.  The Court stated that a local authority such as the City was required only to act reasonably and to progressively fulfill its obligation to ensure that everyone had access to sufficient water.

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One Response to “How much free water do you need?”

  1. […] a municipality supply free water to its inhabitants? We recently discussed the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision regarding the unconstitutionality of aspects of the water […]

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