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Refereed articles

Realising the right of access to water: Pipe dream or watershed?

The article assesses the implications of the Grootboom judgment on the right of access to water. The free basic water policy intends six free kilolitres of water per household per month to be funded from the equitable share and internal cross-subsidies.

No additional funds are available for the provision of free water. This creates serious problems in rural communities that do not have sufficient high volume users to ensure cross-subsidisation. For most urban working class households six kilolitres of water is insufficient. Legislation dealing with water tariffs calls for a balance between cost recovery and access to basic services. The 'reasonableness' of this principle can be disputed in the light of high unemployment and poverty rates. A recent judgment confirms the principle that disconnection is a prima facie breach of the right of access to water. The onus is on the state to justify the disconnection. Human dignity is placed at the centre of the test of whether state action is reasonable, and being deprived of a basic supply of water strips people of their dignity.

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