Inadequate communication hampers infrastructure development

27th March 2009 By: Fatima Gabru

There is insufficient integrated planning and effective communication between governmental departments with a stake in the national sewage and effluent infrastructure, says voluntary association for independent consulting engineers Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Graham Pirie.

“An increase in the number of houses will increase the demand for and flow of water and sanitation, and this needs to be factored into the planning. Coordinated departmental planning is essential to tackle the backlog of basic services for all South Africans,” he says.

He comments that there is a need for departments to talk to one another, which, unfortunately, does not happen often enough.

Cesa, which represents more than 450 consulting firms, emphasises that the association is willing to partner and assist government in achieving the country’s infrastructural needs, Pirie states.

He says that Cesa is available to assist govern- ment through its section 21 organisation, the Project, Development and Facilitation Alliance (PDFA). The sole purpose of the PDFA is to provide a platform to match the considerable skills available from its member firms, which have expertise in all the areas required to provide basic services, to the needs of all spheres of government.

In addition, Cesa has also been designated an implementation agent by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. This is to provide a capacity building facility to recreate the corporate memory, lost in the past decade. “This will rebuild the infrastructure and human capital to drive the initiatives required to upgrade, maintain and operate current infrastructure on an ongoing basis,” adds Pirie.

He notes that Cesa has given a lot of support to government, but that the responses from and interactions with the State have been decreasing recently. He says that this may be because of the upcoming elections, where prio- rities have been reassigned to election issues.

“If not enough attention is paid to the current water and sanitation issues, these could become a national health issue. It is not an issue that can be ignored, and requires timeous and routine maintenance, which is an investment in the future and saves capital,” he says.

Areas of Concern
Cesa raises a number of concerns relating to the current state of the sewage and effluent systems.

The association’s first concern relates to wastewater treatment works, most of which were built about 20 to 30 years ago, and require refurbishment and ongoing maintenance programmes.

A second concern for Cesa is the operational aspect of the water and sewage treatment plants. Pirie states: “A lot of these plants are very sophisticated and require a high level of expertise to make them fully functional. Currently there is a shortage of adequately trained people to maintain and operate the facilities,” he says.

Further, the ageing pipe infrastructure also requires maintenance and the occasional upgrade to be able to function fully.

Cesa is aware that many municipalities are compiling asset registers, which include condition ratings of their plant or asset status. Once these registers are compiled, an intervention plan can be drawn up and a budget allocated for either the refurbishment or the upgrading of assets.

“The asset registers are a vital precursor to any infrastructure maintenance manage- ment plan. The information from these registers opens the path to national funding,” notes Pirie, who also mentions that a number of local authorities have yet to begin work on their registers.

He states that the lack of timeous main- tenance is exacerbating the current infrastructure situation. “A sewer system will deteriorate over time and the concrete piping, for instance, would need to be replaced or relined for the system to function effec- tively. Preventive maintenance, conducted in an integrated manner, has to become a feature of planning and implementation,” he concludes.