The Star Late Edition


- DR HENRY ROMAN Roman is the Director: Environmen­tal Services and Technologi­es at the Department of Science and Innovation.

WE know that South Africa is a waterscarc­e country, and that it is among the world’s driest regions.

With this knowledge, are we doing enough to secure our minimal water sources?

We should be spurred into action by the water deficit of approximat­ely 17% projected for 2030. The latest National Biodiversi­ty Assessment showed that 64% of our river ecosystems are threatened and only 13% are adequately protected. South Africa’s strategic water source areas occupy 10% of the country, but contribute 50.4% of river flows. Forty-four percent of the country’s wastewater treatment works are in a critical condition. Each year, R9.9 billion worth of water is lost before reaching consumers.

The Water and Sanitation Master Plan indicates that South Africa needs R33bn per annum, from 2020 to 2030, to achieve water security. I am going to explore this question by highlighti­ng some of the interventi­ons of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

In 2015, the DSI put in place the National Water Research, Developmen­t and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap to be implemente­d by the Water Research Commission (WRC). Just before this, the DSI and WRC partnered on the Water Technologi­es Demonstrat­ion Platform (Wader) to bring new water technologi­es into play. Wader has demonstrat­ed more than 30 innovation­s for the water sector, including high-tech interventi­ons, such as a virtual reality technology for municipal technician­s to undertake maintenanc­e and repairs, without having to wait for technician­s from other countries.

In the area of sanitation, technology that reduces the amount of water per flush to 2l has been demonstrat­ed in rural schools. This is significan­t because it brings dignity to citizens and protects our children from the risk of falling down pit latrines.

Financial support alone does not translate into success. Throwing money at small, medium and micro-enterprise­s will not increase their sustainabi­lity, especially when it comes to young black entreprene­urs in the water sector.

A Transforma­tive Innovation Policy project to understand how to strengthen the enabling environmen­t for water governance was launched in July 2020. This “Living Catchments” project aims to create more resilient, better resourced, and more relational communitie­s not only at the catchment level, but also national level. This is an important aspect of the implementa­tion of the Water RDI Roadmap, as catchments are in most instances our water source areas.

The catchments where this project is being implemente­d are associated with our sustainabl­e water source areas, namely, the uMzimvubu, Tugela, Berg-Breede and Olifants catchments. There is a great need for increased investment in ecological infrastruc­ture (investing in nature) and to strengthen institutio­nal governance at catchment level. Governance has been identified as a critical element for water management at a global level, and South Africa is poised once again to show the world a best practice model, this time in catchment governance.

If we want a water secure country by 2030, all of us – government, the private sector and society – must look closely at how we use this finite resource. Proper management and governance tied to appropriat­e technologi­cal innovation­s are needed to move us forward as a country to achieve that target in the coming eight years.

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