Steps to avert SA’s water crisis

Government reveals its plan at the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town – The government of SA, which oversees one of the most water stressed regions in the world, and the Water Resources Group (WRG), a public private global network on water announced they have entered into a partnership to protect and preserve SA’s water resources.

The WRG includes the likes of Coca Cola and is supported by the International Finance Corporation and the World Economic Forum.

SA’s water resources are badly managed: pipes leak; inefficient agricultural practices guzzle water thirstily; acid mines are poisoning ground water systems and municipalities lack the capacity to manage the water resources they oversee. As a result by 2030 SA citizens and industries will demand more water than can be supplied.

Government has recognised this problem. “The balance between water demand and supply in SA is precarious right now,” says Edna Molewa, minister of Water Affairs & Environment. Within the next 30 years demand is expected to rise by 52% – while the supply of water is sharply declining. If trends of leakage from aged and poorly maintained municipal infrastructure and the loss of wetlands persist, competition for water resources will intensify across all sectors of the economy – limiting economic growth and exacerbating social and political tensions.

Now it is working to remedy the problem. The partnership is one of the steps taken. “The WRG will assist the government in identifying and addressing critical water issues: water conservation, demand management; and better management of groundwater resources,” says Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of WRG and chairman of multinational food producer, Nestlé.

The partnership will assist the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) in developing sector strategies for agriculture, industry and energy – for instance in increasing water use efficiency, reducing leakage from distribution networks and diversifying the water mix by increasing the reuse of effluent and desalination.

The partnership will enable SA, and in turn the SADC region, to access best practice projects and policies in water management from around the world.

The WRG initiative began some years ago. “In the past three decades no progress has been made with regard to the more efficient consumption and usage of water. On the contrary, the world now uses more water to produce one unit of food or one unit of energy than it has in the past,” says Brabeck-Letmathe.

And consumption is showing no sign of slowing down. The demand for food and energy is growing as the global middle class grows. While people may consume a litre or two of water p/day, it is a different matter when it comes to the food people eat – and the choices they make in that regard – because the production of food is of course water dependant.  “A vegetarian would, in effect, consume 2 500 l/pday while a meat eater consumes 6 000 l/pday, he says.

The Water Resources Group has already begun its work in SA and has identified a number of areas where efficiencies can be gained.

The next step for SA is to create a public-private leadership group to lead this partnership forward. It will be chaired by the DG of Water and Environmental Affairs and will include stakeholders from industry, other government departments (such as Minerals & Energy), the WWF and others.

Currently there is no permanent DG. The acting DG is Trevor Balzer, currently in hospital. Thus the current acting DG is Thandeka Mbassa.

Other partners of the Water Resources Group include Mexico, Jordan and the state of Karnataka in India.

Comments are closed.