WITHOUT A DROP TO DRINK: SA’S WATER CRISIS
THE AILING water infrastructure is bleeding South Africa’s economy on an unprecedented scale, and unless drastic steps are taken urgently to address this, we may find ourselves without a drop to drink in the next few years.
Some 15 years back, the World Bank warned that unless we started saving water in earnest, we might find ourselves begging for water from our neighbours. The financial institution rated us among the 30 semi-arid countries of the world which ran the risk of becoming a desert 50 years on. If the warning still stands, we are left with 35 years to the dreaded era.
Old infrastructure has been a problem for municipalities across South Africa for years, with metal pipes rusting, loose bolts giving way, and clean water gushing onto the street or into drains, costing municipalities millions in lost revenue.
A research into the main causes of a lack of water in South Africa found that the country suffered a R70 million water loss every year, due to what is known as non-revenue water.
Researchers say leaks result in more than 230 million of litres of water being lost every day. This is the water that leaks through old pipes, burst pipes and dripping taps. Given the state of the country’s economy, we can ill-afford such losses in the form of water that literally goes down the drain.
The Water Research Commission’s chief executive, Dhesigen Naidoo, believes South Africa loses more than 25% of its clean water annually due to poor infrastructure. A total of R300 billion, he says, must be spent over the next five years to prevent the country’s water demands outstripping supply.
“We’ll reach a crisis point if we don’t pay attention to the engineering. If we don’t change our water usage behaviours.
“I mean we use the highest quality drinking water to do everything in our households and industrial space. This is completely ridiculous.”
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as we can avert the looming water crisis by modifying water-grading and sanitation systems.
We must, as a matter of urgency, disabuse ourselves of the notion that water is a free gift from the skies, and that we can take it for granted.
A total of R300 billion must be spent over the next five years to prevent demand outstripping the county’s water supply
The fact is that at 450ml per annum, we are receiving half the amount of rain that falls annually in Europe.
It is important that the municipalities come on board the plan to resuscitate the government’s approach to water. Within municipalities, there are often joint responsibilities, with the most common issue being the water services division, where both technical and financial departments have certain responsibilities. This leads to problems, especially when trying to formulate the overall water balance for the municipality and the associated estimate of non-revenue water.
Reflecting on the “State of non-revenue water in South Africa”, R McKenzie, ZN Siqalaba and WA Wegelin made some startling findings regarding municipalities. Among these were that municipalities were continuously in a crisis mode with limited management information and poor decision-making processes, financial and technical management.
And there was a lack of human resources at operational level to perform basic functions such as maintenance, leak repairs and community awareness.
Municipalities have to play a role in finding permanent solutions to the country’s water woes.