Re­cent rains have brought re­lief to many drought-stricken parts of the coun­try, with fore­casts in­di­cat­ing that South Africa might be out of the woods this year. But con­cerns around the man­age­ment of wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture re­main.

Finweek English Edition - - IN DEPTH DROUGHT -

Women carry buck­ets of wa­ter that they re­ceived from a reser­voir in Soweto at the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber. Re­stric­tions in the area left res­i­dents scram­bling for wa­ter.

south Africa may be out of the woods this year, as re­freshed cli­mate mod­els pre­dict a sum­mer of nor­mal or even above-av­er­age rain­fall, which should help re­plen­ish dams and pro­vide some re­lief to strug­gling farm­ers. But the coun­try’s prob­lems with drought and scarce wa­ter re­sources are far from over.

It will prob­a­bly take three years to re­plen­ish its main dams and the steady pro­gres­sion of cli­mate change means that in the years ahead, South Africa and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries in the re­gion will con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence higher tem­per­a­tures, drought and er­ratic rain­fall – pos­si­bly even floods.

The trend will put an ever-in­creas­ing strain on the coun­try’s crum­bling wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, which as the pop­u­la­tion grows is likely to put South Africa in a sim­i­lar predica­ment as it was a few years ago when de­lays in the con­struc­tion of the Medupi and Kusile power sta­tions led to crip­pling elec­tric­ity short­ages.

Al­ready in deficit

Ac­cord­ing to a pa­per pub­lished by the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies in March, national wa­ter with­drawals al­ready ex­ceeded re­li­able sup­ply and even with all the large scale in­ter­ven­tions planned by the de­part­ment of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion (DWS), ris­ing de­mand from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­dus­try and agri­cul­ture would keep this the case un­til 2035.

The chal­lenge is com­pounded by the fact that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are los­ing at least a quar­ter of the wa­ter they should be able to pro­vide through leak­ing pipes, while a fur­ther 10% is un­ac­counted for – mean­ing that a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of rev­enue which wa­ter boards need to de­liver is be­ing lost.

At the same time, sew­er­age and wa­ter treat­ment plants have de­te­ri­o­rated so much that the qual­ity of SA’s drink­ing wa­ter is de­clin­ing while rivers are be­ing pol­luted, pos­ing a threat to the poor com­mu­ni­ties who live on their banks.

The lat­est Blue Drop re­port pub­lished by the DWS last year showed that the qual­ity of the coun­try’s drink­ing wa­ter dropped by eight per­cent­age points be­tween 2012 and 2014 – the first fall since the mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem was put into place in 2008. The new over­all score was still high at 79.6% but in some ru­ral ar­eas it was a shock­ing 9% – well below the safety stan­dard of 50%. Wa­ter ser­vice de­liv­ery also ap­pears to be wors­en­ing – ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral House­hold Sur­vey re­leased by Sta­tis­tics SA this year, the ra­tio of house­holds which de­scribed this as “good” fell from 76.4% in 2005 to 62% in 2015, while the ra­tio for those which per­ceive it as “poor” jumped from 7.8% to 12.5%.

Ir­reg­u­lar spend­ing on wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture

To make mat­ters worse, the Au­di­torGen­eral’s re­port in Novem­ber showed that even though it had a clean au­dit, ir­reg­u­lar spend­ing by the DWS soared by 300% to R1.7bn in the fi­nan­cial year which ended March 2016, mainly due to cor­rect pro­ce­dures not be­ing fol­lowed when projects were al­lo­cated to ex­ter­nal agen­cies.

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