The Star Early Edition - - OPINION - THEMBA KHU­MALO Khu­malo is a con­tent de­vel­oper in the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion

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.

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.

A to­tal of R300 bil­lion must be spent over the next five years to pre­vent de­mand out­strip­ping the county’s wa­ter sup­ply

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