Water Crisis Looming In South Africa

By Oliver Ngwenya    07-Jan-2015 06:23 UTC+02:00

It has recently emerged that there is a report on a looming water crisis that has been ignored by the powers that be and has only been released recently after having been put together more than a year ago.

In a report entitled “Parched Prospects: The emerging water crisis in South Africa”, the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) paints a gloomy picture of a country that is literally wading through gallons of water into a looming water crisis. They state in their report that South Africa, unlike the rest of the world that uses 173 litres per individual per day, waste about 235 litres on one individual per day. This, the institute attributes to lack of education and awareness on the need to conserve water and of the looming crisis. In addition to the high use of water, the institute also identifies waste of the resource, poor planning and abuse of the resource coupled with the looming climate change as contributing factors to the impending disaster.

Speaking extensively on the subject, Dr Jakkie Cilliers, a co-author of the report, said that one factor that would contribute to the impending disaster was the fact that just under a third of South Africa’s 223 river ecosystems were threatened with over a quarter being critical. To her credit, Dr Cilliers was supported by another environmentalist, Di Jones who said that the dams needed to be desludged as most of what was in them was more of silt than real water. She gave the example of Hazelmere Dam, which was reported as being 35% full when in actual fact 15% of what was in the dam was sludge. Dr Cilliers also brought the government’s attention to the aging infrastructure, which was in a sorry state of disrepair. ” There’s strong evidence of years of under-investment in water infrastructure. As a result there is a backlog of communities who don’t have access to clean water, coupled with the issue of aging infrastructure,” Dr Cilliers said.

The issue of communities going without this basic need was also highlighted by Di Jones, who said that the dream of access to clean water for all by the year 2030 could only be attained if management was prioritized. These problems, according to Dr Cilliers, coupled with low rainfall as well as evaporation levels that are three times more than the rainfall, had contributed to making South Africa to be rated as the 30th driest country in the world.

In response, however, the department of Water Resources showed that it was aware of the looming water crisis, which is compared in some quarters to the current and impending energy crisis. The Department’s Angela Masefield, while conceding that the river systems were currently experiencing a lot of strain, also revealed that her Department was constantly closely monitoring demand so that “we can give citizens, industries and agriculture assurances that they will have water in the future.” Jones concurred with this saying that upgrading the infrastructure was critical as it curtailed the large volumes of water from being lost through leaks. In addition, this would also cater for increased demand for water in urban centres due to increases in population caused by the rural to urban migration as well as the government’s plan to increase irritable land by about 33%. Masefield also expressed concern at the amount of water that was lost due to leaks, theft and waste.

Despite lamenting the adequacy of the plans that had been put in place by government to address the looming water crisis, Dr Cilliers conceded that the National Water Resource Strategy had been put in place, whose aims, among others, included improving planning and management and increasing supply to meet the expected increase in demand. In addition, Umgeni Water in Durban had instituted a number of projects in order to mitigate the water problems. They are reported to have budgeted R5 billion for the next five years for projects meant to add value to the water resources in the area. These include the raising of the Hazelmere Dam’s wall as well as the construction of the Lower Thukela Bulk Water Supply Scheme. Durban has also identified two sites for the construction of desalination projects. Dr Cilliers, though not keen on the project initially because of the initial cost as well as the current state of energy, said that it would be beneficial to coastal areas and also would become less expensive in future because of new technologies. Masefield, on the other hand said that consumer education, research, technology and innovation were essential components in the quest to improve the provision of water in South Africa.

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