The overall state of South Africa's public infrastructure has improved slightly over the past five years - from a D+ rating in 2006 to a C- in 2011. Such infrastructure covers 10 sectors, namely drinking water systems, sanitation, roads, airports, railways, ports, electricity reticulation, hospitals, clinics and schools.
Dr Kevin Wall of the CSIR
These findings are published in the 2011 Infrastructure Report Card for South Africa, which was released by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) recently.
On a scale from A+ to E-, a C rating equates to 'satisfactory for now' while a D rating represents infrastructure that is at risk. The grades refer only to the condition of existing assets - they do not reflect society's actual needs or the historical backlogs of infrastructure never built.
The report stresses that people should not view the C- rating as a blanket improvement: "On the contrary, the quality and reliability of basic infrastructure serving the majority of our citizens are poor and, in many places, getting worse. Urgent attention is required to stabilise and improve these."
Dr Kevin Wall, leader of the CSIR research team that contributed extensively to the report card, notes: "When looking at the overall score of C-, it shows that the focused investment over the past five years has resulted in more new infrastructure and an improvement in the condition of some existing assets. However, infrastructure at municipal level remains poor and is deteriorating in many places. The resilience of all new and previously existing infrastructure is, however, questionable without a much improved commitment to maintenance," he says. More emphasis on infrastructure maintenance could in the next 10 years create many of the 5 million jobs that South Africa is looking for.
As with the 2006 edition of the report card, the CSIR - in the public interest - contributed its comprehensive expertise to form the core of the 2011 report. Some 12 CSIR researchers collected and analysed data and drafted the research reports for each of the sections featured.
The CSIR research reports were then interpreted by SAICE's network of engineering professionals. SAICE awarded the appropriate grading to the various sectors.
"We again found that there was a dearth of data on infrastructure - and the problem continues to worsen. Reliable, consistent data are key for the urgently-required shift to routine maintenance. Data allow for planning, prioritisation of targets and adequate budgeting for maintenance and extension," urges Wall.
Two new important themes have also emerged in the 2011 report card, namely the systems nature of infrastructure services delivery, and sustainability.
"The state of a nation's physical infrastructure provides one of the best indicators of its likely prosperity. Profitable economic activity requires efficient and functioning systems of transport, energy, water and waste management and social infrastructural services. Furthermore, a direct positive relationship exists between infrastructure and human well-being. In the case of critical social infrastructure - such as public schools, hospitals and clinics - infrastructural quality has been shown to have a proven positive effect on the impact of the service on its users. In short, good infrastructure improves the quality and length of human life," Wall states.
Herewith some of the grades of specific sectors (the CSIR research team played an active role in the majority of these) as published in the report card:
Department of Water Affairs infrastructure: D-
Major urban areas: C+
All other areas: D-
Major urban areas: C-
All other areas: E-
National roads: B
All provincial, metropolitan and municipal gravel roads: E
Commercial ports: B-
Fishing harbours: C
Health care infrastructure
Public ordinary schools: D+
Eskom's generating infrastructure: C+
Eskom's transmission network: B-
Local distribution: D
The various ratings explained
- An A represents world-class infrastructure, comparable to the best internationally in every respect, with capacity to endure unusual events;
- B represents infrastructure that is fit for the future, satisfying current demands and sufficiently robust to deal with minor stresses;
- C is satisfactory for now, although it might be stressed at peaks and will require investment to avoid serious deficiencies;
- D represents infrastructure that is at risk; that is not coping with demand and is poorly maintained. This is infrastructure that might subject the users to inconvenience and possible danger without prompt attention;
- An E is for infrastructure that is unfit for purpose; that has failed or is on the verge of failure, exposing the public to health and safety hazards. This infrastructure requires immediate attention.
Huge improvements over past 20 years
South Africa has achieved remarkable strides in the past 20 years and it continues to provide infrastructural services to millions of people at a pace unrivalled in its history. "The 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup was an excellent example of the unsurpassed quality of South African engineering professionals, who have made such progress possible despite limited resources and against a fixed deadline," comments Wall.
The aim of the SAICE Infrastructure Report Card is to provide 'expert witness' opinion on the current state of infrastructure to the public. Whereas many decision makers may be technical lay-people, the report card also enables them to make informed decisions, especially regarding maintenance management and planning for new expenditure.
SAICE has more than 9 000 members in government, contractors, designers, education and other fields, and is the largest non-profit professional society in the built environment profession.