Friday, April 30, 2010

A waste water crises?

The existence of a waste water crises is denied despite mounting evidence of mismanagement and neglect in waste water treatment systems.

Crises and denial has been a persistent theme in the last few years and one that was explored in an earlier blogpost two years ago (see Denialism and crises). This is what we wrote back then:

At least we have certainty about one thing. The next time there will be critique on a politically sensitive issue in South Africa, chances are good that it will be denied. It becomes a trend:

HIV does not cause AIDS (see here and here). There is no electricity crises (see here, that was 2006!). Poverty in South Africa is not increasing (see earlier blogpost). There is no crises in Zimbabwe (see here). There is no looming water crises (see here), and the latest:

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has rejected the findings of a report showing SA is not on track to meet its millennium development goals for reducing child and maternal mortality. (see article and earlier blogpost)

This trend is continuing as a crises in SA's sewage system is denied. Contrary to what the results of an audit by government on 53% of South Africa's 852 waste water treatment works tells us. Here are a few snippets from Politicsweb on the issue:

only 32 of them qualified for so-called Green Drop status, broadly equivalent to them complying with international standards

hundreds of millions of litres of untreated or inadequately-treated sewage is being illegally discharged into rivers and streams around the country each day, mainly by small town municipalities.

The SA Medical Journal's news section, Izindaba, warned in August last year that the country was "sitting on a health time bomb caused by outright neglect of its water and sanitation systems".

85 percent of South Africa's sewage system infrastructure was "dilapidated" and the overall neglect of the country's water and sanitation systems "will cost R56 billion to repair"

the minister said she did not know if the funds could be obtained.

reported increases in diarrhoeal diseases and child deaths to areas of the country where sanitation and water systems have broken down.

only two municipalities had been charged, one in North West and another in the Free State.

Green Drop Report strongly identifies skills shortages at waste water treatment plants as a major problem, saying these exist at all levels of management.

The real crises is one of leadership. The disturbing trend is that this crises seems to be deepening.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On electricity tariffs and fossil fuel subsidies

With the rising costs of fossil fuels and fossil-fuel based electricity generation, disparities in electricity tariffs and persistently high fossil-fuel subsidies are coming under the spotlight. This has important implications for South Africa's possible economic development trajectories.

From Moneyweb (see also Politicsweb with a link to the leaked dossier):

The Democratic Alliance (DA) can this morning reveal a secret 291 page Eskom dossier, which provides definitive proof, amongst other things, that Eskom has been charging vastly discounted electricity tariff rates to companies that provide little or no benefit to the South African economy. The document was leaked from high level officials in Eskom to the DA and we made use of its information yesterday to question the acting CEO in the portfolio committee on public enterprises. The chairperson of the portfolio committee tried to tell us not to use the report, but we are today releasing it in full, because we believe its contents are of manifest importance to the South African public. This report stands alongside the now notorious Olsen Report - also released publicly by the DA - in that it provides cast iron evidence of the extent of mismanagement at Eskom, the ANC government's complicity in it, and the damage that is being done to the South African economy as a consequence.

The signs were there much earlier as reported in the press (see here for example) and also on this blog in the context of potential additional carbon costs:

At an average emission rate of close to 0.9kg CO2/Kwh and a price for carbon between $20 and $40 per tCO2 start penciling in an additional cost of between 14-28 cents per Kwh ($1 = R7.5). To place this in perspective Business Day reports: Eskom is understood to have guaranteed the Coega project electricity at 14c/kWh.

Who pays the rest?

What was meant as a rhetorical question way back then is coming clearly in focus now. Of course, we South African citizens have been paying the rest, directly through our electricity bills and indirectly, with other global inhabitants, through the impacts of a changing climate.

Also this morning in my inbox was a study on worldwide fossil fuel subsidies - amounting to a whopping $500 billion annually. According to the report, South Africa subsidised electricity costs at almost $10 billion annually. It was not clear from the report what exactly went into this $10 billion, but that this is substantial is without doubt.

Cheap electricity used to be an integral part of South Africa's industrial policy. With rising electricity prices and potential carbon liabilities the costs of such a policy is becoming rapidly clearer. What the implications are and whether this creates space for new opportunities has been the focus of debate for some time now.

In this time of transition towards a new electricity regime expect more painful stories and hope for wise leadership in seeing opportunities.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Notes on China and Christianity

The state in which Christianity in China finds itself is not obvious for the casual observer. On face value worship is openly allowed (I have attended mixed Chinese-English services for example) and churches are evident everywhere. At the same time one hears of persecution, torture and even executions amongst Christians in China.

Christianity in China is a broad term including Catholics, Protestants and a handful of more Eastern Orthodox Christians. These denominations are controlled by government through several councils and associations. There are also independent house-churches independent from government. It is these house churches who are under pressure.

In a book openly available in Chinese bookshops “Christianity in China” and published by the China Intercontinental Press, author Luo Weihing describes the history of Christianity in China. According to this officially endorsed version, what started out as English missionary work early in the 19th century has grown to 3 million in 1979 and an estimated 16 million Christians in 2002. The composition of Christianity also changed from elderly, women, illiterates and the sick earlier to a larger ratio of middle-aged, youth and intellectuals in the 1990’s. What these numbers do not reveal is the amount of Christians in house churches; one source estimating this to be between 20 at 50 million people growing at 7% pa (see “Acquinted with Grief” by Alan Harvey).

In the transitions towards communist China, Luo describes how as a “foreign religion” Christianity posed many contradictions for Chinese people:

“ Enlightened by Premier Zhou, the Christian leaders realized that the difficulties Christianity faced were due to its notorious history being connected to Western colonialism”

That was 1950 and led to the emergence of the principles of self-rule, self-reliance and self-development in Chinese Christian churches. Around two-thirds of Christians at that time subscribed to this “independence under communist rule”. Patriotism, cutting of ties with Western churches and an anti-US campaign for example quickly became part of official Chinese Christianity. During the cultural revolution from 1966-1976 the Christian churches were closed and religious activities banned. The restoration of these arrangements started again in earnest in 1980.

The 200 000 or so Christians who did not subscribed to this independence under communist rule, formed the backbone of the house churches. The book “Acquinted with Grief” by Alan Harvey describes the role of Wang Mindao, also called the “Dean of the House Churches” and the founder of the Chinese Church in Christ. Wang was arrested and imprisoned for over twenty years up to his release in 1980. He argued that if Christians would go in a union with the state, ideological pressure would gut the church of its message and mission.

In the early 1980’s thousands of house church leaders were sent to labour camps. Up to 1989, two years before Wang’s death, pressure on the house churches has eased. In the build-up to the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, the ruling Party’s influence eroded and Christian churches grew. Interpreted as a challenge to authority, house church leaders were once again under threat and house church leaders were send to labour camps (2001) or even executed (2006).

It appears as if the communist state wants to portray a sense of tolerance, but at times startle with their fierce crackdowns on those who are independently organised.This includes the house churches, but also other so-called ‘evit cults’ such as the Fulan Gong.

Understanding these contradictory signals from the Party would require a deep study on its roots. One explanation is that an off an atheistic and materialistic state irked by the superstition and anti-scientific behaviour of ‘evil cults’. At a deeper level I think it has all to do with an uncontrollable grass-roots influence on society which seems to challenge the authoritarian and nationalistic nature of the Party. China wants to be the best and biggest in the world, an urge born from sources such as the historical oppression of Chinese by foreigners, the failure of Mao’s 20th century communism and the human urge for absolute power. Earlier rebellions were at times associated with some form of Christianity as well.

In such a context it is not a big step to reason that Christianity, if not contained within and submerged to the purpose of the Chinese state, will be a potentially destructive social force that Party leaders will have to deal with. Given the nature of Chinese ambition, the history of rebellion, the eroding powers of the Party internally, the rise of Christianity and the rise of Chinese power internationally one can reasonably expect a continuous heavy hand on Christians who function independently from the state-controlled churches.

This is not the only way though. One can only hope that the churches will be allowed to show what it really means to be Christian in this world. If Christian house churches are allowed to practice their believes in the open, it will be for all to see that this is not a revolutionary challenge to the state. I agree with Thomas Harvey that the Party leadership need to think seriously about giving Christians freedom to really be self-organised, self-ruled and self-reliant. This will be a tell-tale investment in the harmonious society they so much want.