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South Africa: A human rights-based approach to wastewater management

For decades until 1994, public policy and the legal framework in South Africa were based on racial segregation affecting all spheres of life, with the result that up to 20 million South Africans (the majority belonging to the black community) were living without adequate sanitation. With the fall of the apartheid regime, a new policy was implemented based on a democratic system which also extended to the legislation and policies relating to wastewater management.

The South African policy regarding wastewater management is based on a human rights-based approach, i.e. a process of human development aligned with international human rights standards and directed to promote, protect and implement them. It should be noted, that this recognition of the human right to water and sanitation occurred before these rights were officially recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2010; and even before the General Comment No 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2002 on the right to water.

This human rights-based approach is present through the right to information and public participation. It should also be worth noting for instance that the Free Basic Sanitation Implementation Strategy allowed several municipalities to provide essential and basic sanitation services free of charge for poor households; but also that despite significant progress made, about 25% of South Africans did not have access to sanitation services in 2014 (WHO/UNICEF JMP).

Among the actions provided regarding wastewater management, there is the implementation of water reuse projects according to a National Water Reuse Strategy, the refurbishment and upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, and the reduction of pollution from wastewater treatment works; through a better efficiency of water use and in order to reduce the amount of municipal sewage produced.

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