7 February 2012
While sipping on bottled water has become something of a lifestyle statement, a survey has revealed that most South Africans are happy with the high quality water that comes straight from their taps.
The survey, conducted by the Water Research Commission and South African Local Government Association between March and May 2011, investigated urban South Africans’ perceptions of the quality of their water and the factors that influence these perceptions.
It found that 81 percent of urban South Africans from all income levels perceive their tap water to be safe to drink. This concurs with international studies which found that most people in countries with a reliable water supply perceived tap water as having a low safety risk.
South African water institutions are considered to provide some of the highest quality of drinking or potable water in the world.
The survey covered adults aged 16 years and older from all race groups. A random sample of 2 437 urban households was drawn.
Younger people more positive
The study also found that women were significantly less confident about the safety of tap water than men. Women were also more likely than men to boil or filter drinking water, and more inclined than men to drink only bottled water.
Younger people between the ages of 16 and 34 were more positive about the safety of drinking water than older people.
Consumers in the metro municipalities perceived their tap water to be significantly safer to drink than consumers in other urban municipalities.
Consumers in eThekwini Metro (Durban) had the highest consumer confidence in the safety of their tap water, whereas consumers in Mangaung Metro (Bloemfontein) had the least confidence.
Consumers of non-metro municipalities in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces had the lowest confidence in the safety of their tap water.
Factors influencing perceptions
There was a wide range of factors which determined consumers’ perceptions about the safety of drinking water, the main ones being the appearance of the water, its taste and smell, and people’s bodily reactions to it.
A very small percentage of the population based their perception of the safety of tap water on what they heard or read in the media.
The leader of the survey, Dr Sarah Slabbert, said: “Although the scope of this study was small, it provides a baseline within which to compare future studies.
“It also gives the water sector and its stakeholders an understanding of how South Africans perceive the quality of drinking water. The findings have several implications for policy, management and further research.”
The director for water use and waste management at the Water Research Commission, Jay Bhagwan, said the perception that tap water was clean and safe to drink and regularly tested was a major indicator of good municipal service.