Water tankers a big contributor to eThekwini’s ‘non-revenue water’ losses

eThekwini Municipality water tanker delivering water to the people of Amaoti, north of Durban. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya

eThekwini Municipality water tanker delivering water to the people of Amaoti, north of Durban. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya

Published Feb 5, 2024


Councillors in the eThekwini Municipality said that one of the big contributors to water shortages in the City, to an extent, came as a result of the water tanker system, as they were not metered and classified as “non-revenue water”.

Head of the Infrastructure and Human Settlements portfolio for the City, EFF Councillor Themba Mvubu, said that water tankers were a large contributor to the phenomenon known as “non-revenue water”.

This is classified as water that is purchased from the bulk supplier, uMngeni-uThukela Water, but goes unaccounted for because of a number of reasons.

Mvubu has been in eThekwini for just under a year, and said he noticed a number of areas that could improve water service delivery in eThekwini.

“When people say non-revenue water, mostly, they are picturing cracks and leaks all over the City. That is not entirely true.

“The water that is used to fill up tankers which is then distributed to people, like in the most recent cases, Phoenix and Verulam, that water is not metered and therefore unaccounted for.

“This is the same water that is purchased from uMngeni Water and it is classified as non-revenue water,” Mvubu said.

The water that is administered through the tanker system goes by completely unaccounted for, the EFF councillor explained, but this water is paid for already.

Visvin Reddy, former board member at uMngeni Water and leader of African Democratic Change, said the water tankers sucked up a large portion of eThekwini’s water supply and he could not understand why the City purchased more tankers.

“They say the supply is unable to meet the rising demand, then they go and purchase more tankers, which depletes the supply even further to the leaks and vandalism we have going on.

“I really do not understand the logic the City employs when making these decisions. Why not fix the problems with that money, instead of buying more tankers?” Reddy asked.

In August last year, Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda revealed the new 55 water tankers, which he said were purchased to reach “any terrain” in the City, as it received complaints about a lack of water tankers.

Prior to the latest purchase, the City had access to 100 water tankers.

Each truck can hold up to 16,000 litres of water.

According to the Department of Water and Sanitation No Drop report, non-revenue water increased to 58% in 2023. This means more than half the water purchased by the City goes unaccounted for.

This figure has been on a an upward trajectory since 2013, when non-revenue water was at 37%.

The eThekwini Municipality, in response to the South African Human Rights Commission’s report last year, responded to IOL’s questions about non-revenue water.

At the time, spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said the Municipality was formulating a plan to lower this number, which was over 50%.

She said the reasons for water losses included Illegal water connections, ageing Infrastructure, damage to infrastructure due to recent floods, and vandalism of infrastructure.

Sisilana did not mention that tankers contribute to non-revenue water.

“The 55 newly-purchased water tankers are an addition to the existing fleet and aimed at improving service delivery, particularly to ensure adequate supply of emergency water when there is a crisis,” Sisilana said.

But why would a city that is interested in fixing leaks, spend more than R100 million on new water tankers, asked Phoenix Civil Movement vice chairperson Alice Govender.

“They have used the floods as a scapegoat for their inability to provide services.

“They have admitted that the City lost water before the floods could happen, but nothing was done about it. Why purchase new trucks when the infrastructure is broken?” Govender asked.

We have asked the Municipality again to comment on Non-revenue water and are awaiting a reply.