CityPress - - Business - LIZEKA MAT­SHEKGA busi­ness@city­press.co.za

South Africa is in the mid­dle of a wa­ter cri­sis. You would as­sume that, af­ter re­peated warn­ings over the past few years by in­dus­try stake­hold­ers, we would have changed our at­ti­tudes, heeded the call to pre­serve wa­ter and per­haps have in­vested in fu­ture-proof­ing the wa­ter needs of the coun­try.

You would be wrong. Un­like elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion and sup­ply, which re­quires co­pi­ous in­vest­ment of cap­i­tal by power util­ity com­pa­nies, wa­ter is con­sid­ered to be a free re­source that can be tapped from a river, the sea or a bore­hole. Even bet­ter, rain­fall is the pri­mary source of this re­source.

Throw con­sumer and rights groups into the fray, and the clam­our of en­ti­tle­ment to this re­source grows loud. Is it re­ally nec­es­sary, then, for con­sumers to start pay­ing tar­iffs for a re­source that is con­sid­ered to be a ba­sic right?

These at­ti­tudes typ­i­cally sum up the mind­set of South African wa­ter con­sumers. But this is al­ready chang­ing, es­pe­cially in the wake of a crip­pling drought in the Western Cape. Sadly, though, we are learn­ing the hard way. For per­spec­tive, each per­son in the Western Cape is cur­rently al­lowed to use only 87 litres of mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter a day for drink­ing and wash­ing.

Hav­ing used 243 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter in the past year, the prov­ince now has slightly more than 160 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of us­able wa­ter left – rep­re­sent­ing a deficit of 84 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of the re­source that must sus­tain the prov­ince un­til the next rainy sea­son. Sim­ply put, the Western Cape will re­quire three con­sec­u­tive years of above av­er­age rain­fall to fully re­cover from this drought.

The se­vere ra­tioning of the wa­ter sup­ply in the Western Cape and other parts of the coun­try is an in­di­ca­tor that wa­ter shed­ding in South Africa is a re­al­ity. And it could fast be­come a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

In some town­ships such as Gugulethu (where I come from), Langa, Nyanga and Khayelit­sha, years of progress in the de­liv­ery of piped wa­ter, which has con­trib­uted to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life and to poverty re­duc­tion, may be un­done by a dou­ble whammy of a pos­si­ble in­tro­duc­tion of higher tar­iffs cou­pled with dras­tic wa­ter ra­tioning. While this cri­sis is largely con­fined to the Western Cape right now, ris­ing wa­ter de­mand across the coun­try – the re­sult of an in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion and the growth in the num­ber of house­holds us­ing flush­ing toi­lets – makes this a na­tional cri­sis.

Fur­ther com­pound­ing this is the rapidly de­plet­ing sup­ply of fresh wa­ter – a chal­lenge con­fronting the coun­try’s eco­nomic hub, Gaut­eng. The prov­ince has a mas­sive pop­u­la­tion whose liveli­hoods are de­pen­dent on wa­ter-in­ten­sive in­dus­tries, yet it barely has a source of fresh wa­ter. The bulk of the wa­ter con­sumed in the prov­ince is drawn from the Ma­luti Moun­tains in Le­sotho.

Added to this is the threat of age­ing in­fra­struc­ture and the wide­spread preva­lence of acid mine drainage across the Vaal Reef, which means the bulk of wa­ter in Gaut­eng is highly con­tam­i­nated. In­vest­ing in the coun­try’s wa­ter se­cu­rity is cer­tain to be­come a huge chal­lenge, es­pe­cially as the cri­sis be­comes repli­cated across other min­ing towns in Mpumalanga, Lim­popo and North West.

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on the doom and gloom, this should be a ral­ly­ing cry for con­sumers, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety to in­vest in mod­ern in­fra­struc­ture and also help change con­sumer at­ti­tudes to­wards this re­source.

Although the reg­u­la­tory frame­work re­quires work, ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion is a suf­fi­cient spring­board to gal­vanise ac­tion.

Poli­cies such as the car­bon tax also of­fer the pri­vate sec­tor the re­quired im­pe­tus to be in­no­va­tive in how it in­vests in in­fra­struc­ture and saves wa­ter – af­ter all, the tax is aimed at en­cour­ag­ing sus­tain­abil­ity and this should, in turn, cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment for new in­dus­tries.

Most of all, though, I would ar­gue that the so­lu­tions to pre­vent­ing a full-blown and na­tion­wide wa­ter cri­sis are great op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­trepreneurs with the in­no­va­tion and drive to build world-class wa­ter sup­ply and treat­ment in­fra­struc­ture.

. Mat­shekga is the IDC’s di­vi­sional ex­ec­u­tive for agro­pro­cess­ing, in­dus­trial in­fra­struc­ture and new in­dus­tries

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