Daily News  :: Southern Africa

Poor maintenance, skills hurt SA's infrastructure
Don Robertson
Published: 05-DEC-06

Johannesburg - A shortage of skills and a lack of adequate funding for the maintenance of infrastructure was affecting social life and economic growth in South Africa.

This was the gist of a report card by the South African Institute of Civil Engineering, which said that the grade given to infrastructure - such as water, roads, airports, ports and rail - was an unsatisfactory D+.

This grade was partly due to a lack of maintenance. Although much is being done to address the problems, the whole process should be speeded up, said Sam Amod, president of the institute.

Adequate budgets and maintenance plans for existing and new additions to the infrastructure asset base were needed, he added.

However, Transnet, the airports, power utility Eskom, the 2010 World Cup and high-speed train project Gautrain have announced substantial funding programmes.

The shortage of skills affected everything from planning, procurement and design to construction, according to the report.

It was particularly acute in the booming civil engineering sector.

A recent survey carried out by the institute revealed that 75 of the countries 231 municipalities did not have a single civil engineer, technologist or technician.

Many dams, weirs, canals, pump stations, pipelines, siphons and tunnels were old and in need of major refurbishment or replacement, while 43 percent of dams have safety problems and required upgrades.

South was one of the few countries where water could be drunk from the tap in most metropolitan areas, but this was not the case in smaller towns. Sanitation had the worst grading and of the projects completed since 1994, more than a quarter have failed or were about to fail, creating the risk of water-borne diseases.

A spokesman for the department of water affairs and forestry said that in many cases engineers had been sent to municipalities to assist with repairs, but it was actually the municipalities that should be responsible for repairs. In the case of sanitation, one of the problems is the influx of people from rural areas and it was very unlikely that these municipalities would "catch up".

It is estimated that 72 percent of national roads were nearing the end of their life, but funding was a challenge.

Overloading and a lack of proper maintenance reduced the life of roads.

Apart from Gauteng, Africa�s most economically active province, the condition of roads continued to decline, partly because of a lack of a skilled workforce.

Airports owned by the Airports Company South Afrca (Acsa) were considered world class as far as condition and services were concerned, but during peak periods Acsa did not meet service targets at OR Tambo in Johannesburg or for domestic flights in Cape Town.

An increase in maintenance, upgrading and replacement was occurring at the seven ports run by Transnet.

The state-owned enterprise was planning increased spending, which should resolve the problem of deterioration, ageing and obsolescence, said Amod.

Heavy-duty freight lines for iron ore and coal were operated at international levels, but the general freight sector has declined in recent years because of maintenance backlogs.

Passenger lines have also suffered from poor maintenance and were deteriorating.

Eskom's generation and transmission capacity was almost at peak levels and further power cuts could be expected unless extra capacity was developed.

A shortage of skills, overloaded infrastructure and inadequate operation and maintenance were creating problems, said Amod.

Generally, the allocation of budgets for maintenance has been too low at most hospitals and clinics and although new hospitals were being built, there appears to be insufficient funding to maintain them once complete. -Business Times

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