Lessons learned for the future of public law: legislative responses to the challenge of insufficient data on water service delivery in South African cities

International Law recognized water as a human right more than ten years ago, and in countries like South Africa a constitutionally recognized right to water exists. Globally, safely managed water services are vital for human health during disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. To respond adequately to the pandemic and to fulfil their water services mandate, cities require information on who has access to water services, and the quality and safety of the water sources, etc. The sudden emphasis on the need for increased information compounded South African cities’ extant data challenge. This paper investigates existing legal responses to the challenge of insufficient data on water service delivery in cities. Important lessons are extrapolated for the future of public law. The paper proposes that, due to the unique position of cities concerning the provision of water services, and the need for complete and reliable data, the law should emphasise cities’ role in the collection of data.