South Africa’s taps are running dry

tap-waterAccording to the former minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa South Africa has fully allocated 98 per cent of the county’s water source and this means that future generations in the country will only have 2 per cent of water at their disposal.

Steve Hedden, researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) said that the current demand for water exceeds the supply and it is expected that the gap between the two will grow wider in the next 20 years.

“The difference between water and everything else is that there is no substitute,” said Hedden.

“The sectors that are going to be hit first [by the dwindling water supply] and probably the hardest are the vulnerable sectors, that being agriculture.”

He went on to explain that in South Africa, less water is used in agriculture than would be expected, given the size of irrigated land.

“But that’s often because the resource is been spread too thinly because you’re using the same amount of water for more crop land which is actually a bad thing because it makes the crops more vulnerable so while efficiency is a good thing, the land is more vulnerable to drought.”

Solutions to the looming water crisis

Hedden said the rationing of water is a possibility although it is not something that will happen in the immediate future.

“It is going to take a level of foresight where municipalities will be allocated limited amounts of water and then they will have to ration households and other sectors.”

He also explained that increasing the price of water in certain areas, “to restrain the amount which is wasted might help. But there are alternatives to just raising prices”.

He said that different qualities of water could have varied uses.

“In agriculture, for example, water doesn’t have to be fully treated for human consumption; it can be used on irrigated land.”

Causes for the looming shortages

Twenty-five per cent of municipal water is lost through leaks according to Hedden. There is a lack of efficient distribution in municipalities.

Another contributor which has not been given enough attention according to Hedden is the acid mine drainage.

Acid mine drainage is the water waste that comes out of mines, this is water which has been used to flush out excess ore.

“All that water then flows into rivers and lakes and it is so polluted, it’s basically liquid metal, it’s not just dirty water, if you drink it you die.”

Processing plants have been putting lime in the water as a way to treat the contamination to make the metal drop out and this is not an efficient solution because the metal then flows back into rivers and “half the river literally becomes solid metal”, Hedden explained.

Water scarcity in the country doesn’t account for the fact that of the available water, some of it is contaminated and the current solutions are often dilutions.

“If there is a release of acid mine drainage downstream, what we see happening is that there is a release of more water up stream through dams as a means to dilute the acid mine drainage enough so that it is ok for human consumption.

“Resolving the issue is going to be costly but long term solutions need to be developed,” he emphasized.


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