Authors: TG Barnard, CA Kruger, N Hodgekinson And D Bartie
Source: WRC Report No. 1994/2/13
Background and rationale: Recent failures in potable water delivery as well as outbreaks of waterborne diseases in South Africa have led to the public investigating the use of home water treatment devices (HWTDs) to ensure that their tap water is safe for human consumption. The increased metal concentrations in tap water in Carolina is one example of causes for public concern as evident from interviews aired on the MNet televisions show Carte Blanche. The sale and use of small scale water purification systems in the domestic and occupational setting is increasing rapidly, with the majority of these units sold over the counter in high street stores. Consumers buy these products in good faith on the basis of claims of their efficiency made during marketing and advertising campaigns, and with the expectation that the unit will remove, for example, 90-100% of all harmful microorganisms.
Public perception is based on the sensory quality of the water (taste, odour and appearance), interpretations of water quality information, and the trust that the consumers have in their water service provider. The general public seems to lack a complete understanding of the current water quality status and most people are not aware of the Blue Drop Certification Program, which regularly informs consumers about the drinking water quality management levels per service system in various cities and towns of South Africa, or the fact that they can monitor their water quality on a daily basis. Realistically, in certain areas of South Africa there is sometimes a need for the further purification of tap water; however consumers lack the knowledge to make informed decisions when choosing the correct treatment option. The most important step for a consumer before purchasing a filtration unit would be to understand their needs, i.e. “I want to use it for removing excess chlorine, viruses, metals….” etc. This in itself leads to questions such as the choice of technology needed in their house, the limitations of the device they are considering, the ongoing maintenance and running costs, what type of source water should be utilized with the technology, flow rates, tap pressure requirements and most importantly the need for certification.
This study addressed these concerns with a knowledge dissemination strategy, starting with seminars and culminating in the release of a pamphlet guiding the consumer through the process of choosing the correct home water treatment device to meet his or her own needs. This report gives an overview of the development of the information pamphlet, describing water quality in South Africa, giving tools to assist users with the selection of an appropriate HWTD and advice regarding the certification and regulation of HWTDs in South Africa.
The public feedback indicated that pamphlets were understandable and easy to follow and use. There was clear proof that the general public was not aware of the Blue Drop Certification Programme or the ability to access to water quality results via the “My Water” website. It highlights the fact that although people working in the water sector are doing excellent work it is not effectively communicated to the public. In cases where information is conveyed to the public, it should be done in such a manner that it is easily understandable to people not working in the water sector and more effort should be done to distribute information to the public.
There is a need for information dissemination exercises which should be adapted to the target audience and expected uses for the information. In this way the information can be used to assist and educate the public at all levels of age and education.