In recognition of the ability to detect the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in sewage and the critical role of basic hygiene in combatting COVID-19, the Minister of the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has published, on 15 April 2020, directions in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002. The Directions implement the emergency procurement of water supply and sanitation services to identified areas to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The Directions establish the National Disaster Water Command Centre ("NDWCC") as the central operations centre that is tasked with taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amongst various measures, these measures include the emergency procurement and provision of water and sanitation equipment to identified areas that lack water for basic hygiene purposes.
The NDWCC will be staffed by representatives from various water boards, as well as officials from the Department and municipalities and is to be coordinated by the Chief Executive of Rand Water, supervised by the Minister and the Rand Water Board. The Rand Water Board is responsible for various strategic areas and deliverables and is empowered, by agreement, that is or has been entered into with NDWCC, to coordinate the procurement of water and sanitation equipment directly from manufacturers and suppliers. Such procurement will be undertaken by a designated procurement officer, subject to the Public Finance Management Act, 1999 and Treasury Regulations, and a record of all transactions will be kept for auditing purposes after the lockdown period.
Irrigation boards, water user associations and catchment management agencies ("water suppliers") must supply water when directed to do so by the NDWCC. The Department may require that any services, property or assets of these water suppliers be put at the disposal of the Department. However, the Department must first use its own resources and assets for water distribution, save in circumstances where a private service is governed by a contract. The water suppliers, as well as the NDWCC, must keep records of the quantities and cost of water supplied, including reimbursement invoices submitted to the Department. The NDWCC is also required to arrange and administer a monitoring system to track emergency water and sanitation procurement and distribution processes.
The water suppliers typically supply water to the agribusiness sector and depending on the volumes of water required by the NDWCC, agribusinesses may find it necessary to supplement their water use from alternative water resources in the interim, such as groundwater. If the volumes of water are significant such that allocations to agribusinesses are reduced by water suppliers in water-scarce areas, it may be prudent for agribusinesses to commence with applications for water use licenses to supplement supply. The Department has indicated that water use licences will be granted in 70 days for the agriculture sector as of 1 April 2020.
Municipalities must identify appropriate public spaces for the placement of water tanks, water tankers, communal stand pipes, ablution blocks and toilets for public use. Municipalities must distribute water and sanitation packs from the NDWCC consisting of hand soap, sanitisers, rubber gloves and masks, whilst strictly complying with social distancing requirements.
Companies with employees in these identified areas should encourage their employees to utilise hygiene services provided by the NDWCC as part of their COVID-19 employee awareness campaigns. There may also be opportunities for companies to contribute to their communities by engaging with the NDWCC procurement officer and supplying the required sanitation goods and services.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.