This failure to simultaneously deliver clean water and adequate sanitation lies at the crux of the problem facing any developing nation attempting to fulfil the binding UN declaration on the right to clean water and sanitation.
Delivering clean water is less costly than dealing with wastewater, especially that generated by concentrated populations in urban areas. For instance, while 88% may have access to water, recent studies show that only 55% of that water is considered of suitable quality for human consumption.
While delivering water to such a large proportion of our people is a notable achievement, the quality and management of our existing sanitation facilities has declined over the past few decades, to the extent where only 3% of our water treatment works now meet acceptable standards. There is a direct linkage between this failure and the quality of available water. This is the gap in the water regime that renders our present situation unsustainable -- it is the unmentionable elephant in the room.
Most of our approximately 1600 water treatment works service urban areas and towns. The pollution caused by poorly managed works affects all communities but particularly small towns and rural water supplies.
The hard reality is that urban areas receive clean water from far afield, then pollute it and unthinkingly flush it down the drain. Urban dwellers simply do not realise how precarious their water supply really is.
Urban water use is presently an open loop system, in contrast to closed loop, natural systems. Water is collected in dams, distributed, polluted, treated and disposed, either to the sea or back to rivers. No municipalities presently purify wastewater for re-use by people, except in emergencies when the energy intensive and expensive process of reverse osmosis - also used to desalinate seawater - has been used on treated sewage water.