A confluence of new technology and the right to water: experience and potential from South Africa's constitution and commons

N. Cooper, A. Swan*, D. Townend

*Corresponding author for this work

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South Africa's groundbreaking constitution explicitly confers a right of access to sufficient water (section 27). But the country is officially 'water-stressed' and around 10 % of the population still has no access to on-site or off-site piped or tap water. It is evident that a disconnect exists between this right and the reality for many; however the reasons for the continuation of such discrepancies are not always clear. While barriers to sufficient water are myriad, one significant factor contributing to insufficient and unpredictable access to water is the high percentage of broken water pumps. Previous studies have reported that between 20 and 50 % of all hand operated water pumps installed on the African continent are broken, or out of use. Monitoring and maintenance of pumps, which in South Africa is the responsibility of local municipalities is often ineffective, in part due to the distances between municipal centres and rural communities and the consequent costs of site visits, as well as breakdowns within the local bureaucratic system. The emergence of new telemetry tools that can remotely monitor water applications constitutes a novel and cost-efficient alternative to undertaking regular sites visits. Sustainable, appropriate, low-cost telemetry systems are emerging that could be used to monitor the operational performance of water pumps, or a wide range of other field parameters, and to communicate this information swiftly and cheaply to water service providers, using SMS messages. Data on the performance of water pumps could also be made available to the public online. This is an example of how ICT can be used for water resources management and environmental regulation, as well as in the governance of socio-economic rights: helping to optimize water allocation by improving communication and strengthening accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • Commons
  • Human rights
  • IWRM
  • Property
  • Telemetry

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