Critics Dispute Tap Water Claim By South African President
By Sara Jerome
President of South Africa Jacob Zuma claimed this month that his nation is one of only twelve countries in the world "where tap water is safe to drink throughout the country."
But fact-checkers and experts say that's untrue.
Anthony Turton, a professor and water resource management specialist, is among the critics. Turton helped write the 2012 United Nations World Water Development Report.
"Certainly every European Union member state has water that is safe to drink, simply by virtue of the fact that they are strictly governed by the EU Framework Directive. There are more than 12 countries in the EU, so there goes the validity of the statements," Turton said in an article published by AfricaCheck, a nonprofit devoted to accuracy in public debate.
He added, "By-and-large, it is absolutely safe to drink tap water in most places and certainly not just twelve countries in the world. That is absolute nonsense."
Zuma is not the first person to make such an exaggerated claim about South Africa's water. The Institute of Waste Management of South Africa made a nearly-identical statement earlier this year. "South Africa has the distinction of being one of only twelve countries in the world where it is safe to drink our tap water," the release said.
It is not clear where this faulty claim comes from. "A Google search of the phrase pulls up over 2000 results for the claim, dating back several years, but provides few clues as to its origin," AfricaCheck said.
Misinformation aside, South Africa does have a good tap water system.
Nonhlanhla Kalebaila, research manager for drinking water treatment and quality at South Africa’s Water Research Commission, said in AfricaCheck:
“Our drinking water standard compares well with other global standards, so essentially drinking water that meets our national standard can be said to be of ‘world-class quality.'”
The Water Project, a nonprofit group, listed some current challenges the country is facing. For instance, "as more and more people migrate into cities from rural villages the pressure for the city to meet the water demands is ever increasing," it said.
To read about utilities in South Africa, click here for previous Water Online coverage.
Image description: "President Jacob Zuma accompanied by Water and Environmental Affairs Ministers Edna Molewa and North West Premier Thandi Modise drinking the water from a tab at Amos Pine's house during his monitoring visit on Infrastructural Development in the Ngobi village, Hammanskraal, which is under the Moretele Local Municipality in the North West province."
Image credit: "Monitoring and evaluation visit to Hammanskraal," 2 Jun 2012," © 2012 GovernmentZA, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/