Bil­lions to avoid loom­ing water cri­sis

Weekend Witness - - News - YOLANDI GROE­NEWALD

EDNA Molewa might be short in stature, but she be­lieves she has the heart and will to turn around South Africa’s crum­bling water in­fra­struc­ture.

South Africa’s water min­is­ter is at the fore­front of a re­source cri­sis that will have dire po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences if not man­aged cor­rectly. And the cri­sis is un­fold­ing right now.

This year al­ready, at least 10 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ taps have run dry.

And in many ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the water re­mains un­drink­able as lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture col­lapses. Crit­ics are call­ing water South Africa’s next Eskom dis­as­ter. This week, Molewa re­vealed that 1,58 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sup­plied water went un­ac­counted for each year.

But Molewa is calm, her words pre­cise, when asked if South Africa is on the edge of a precipice.

She said: “We do not have a cri­sis, but we could have a cri­sis. I know peo­ple are us­ing the word ‘cri­sis’. But what they are say­ing is that it’s im­por­tant to plan. As in­deed we have planned.”

But plug­ging the coun­try’s age­ing and leak­ing water sup­ply sys­tems will cost bil­lions. To sup­ply clean water to South Africa’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing pip­ing it from far away water schemes, will cost even more.

And in be­tween are small mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where taps run dry for months or where the water is sim­ply too foul to drink.

Molewa is all too aware of the strug­gles of ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which can’t sup­ply clean water and of the po­lit­i­cal ten­sions and ser­vice de­liv­ery protests which can erupt when there is none.

She punches the air while telling of how the de­part­ment es­tab­lished rapid re­sponse teams in the water de­part­ment to help strug­gling mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, while also ap­proach­ing the trea­sury for money to fund a new pro­gramme called the in­terim water sup­ply pro­gramme.

“We come in and try to give as­sis­tance. If the mu­nic­i­pal­ity does not want to lis­ten, we is­sue di­rec­tives. And then as a last re­sort, if the mu­nic­i­pal­ity still re­sists us, we take them to court.”

On the con­tentious is­sue of mines, eco­nomic growth and wet­lands, she said she is talk­ing to the min­ing min­is­ter about nogo ar­eas and “min­ing in wet­lands is sim­ply not a place to mine”.

Still, Molewa knows that she has a moun­tain to climb to fix South Africa’s water sup­ply, and that the precipice is never far away. “We must re­spond now, so that we don’t get to that cri­sis. We can still save the sit­u­a­tion.”

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