Water crisis in SA creeps up gradually

SA’s water crisis has already begun, with “water shedding” taking place in parts of KwaZulu-Natal as a result crumbling infrastructure in South Africa leading to Water shedding of drought, Wiero Vogelzang, MD of engineering consultants GIBB, said on Friday.

SA’s water shortages would not be as immediately visible as the load shedding arising from electricity shortages, he said. Rather, a water crisis would creep up gradually and by the time the dams were dry it would be too late.

The problem will slowly become evident as water quality deteriorates, eventually leading to outbreaks of sickness, with rural areas sooner affected than the big urban areas, said Mr Vogelzang.

Some of the issues SA is facing include limited available resources, population growth at 1.3% a year, and about 20 years of neglect of infrastructure which will cost a lot of money to address.

The solution lies in managing both supply and demand, he said.

On the demand side, the public must be taught to understand the value of water and the need to save it, Mr Vogelzang said.

It costs R4-R5 to treat a kilolitre of water to drinking standards but this costly water is being used for watering gardens and flushing toilets. If average household water consumption was cut by up to 20%, this would help to build the eight-to 10-year water reserve needed to avoid future water cuts.

On the supply side, more dams may be required, but they are becoming more expensive to build. The most suitable sites from a design point of view — and those with good proximity to urban areas — were already used for dams in the 1970s and 1980s.

Water losses from ageing networks could be as high as 30%-60%. Just focusing on fixing existing pipelines would make it less urgent to build new dams.

Some authorities have recognised this fact. Durban has repaired its water infrastructure and will recover that money spent within eight to 10 years.

Mr Vogelzang said financing for water infrastructure is a huge problem, especially for smaller municipalities. They are also stuck with financial losses because water bills are not being sent out to users or monies are not collected.

Smaller municipalities battle to get good engineers, yet they often have a greater need for skills. One solution might be to have a central pool of engineers paid the same benefits for the same level of skills, no matter where they work.

The Department of Water Affairs needs billions of rand to address water shortages, which SA could not afford, he said.

Although the private sector is willing to get involved where there is a business case, the Treasury needs to start the process of building public-private partnerships.

Such a process would succeed in an enabling environment, if it remained transparent. Having one or two successful trial projects could help. “The expertise is there and the department knows what needs to be done, but there is no budget. There needs to be a resolution to drive public-private partnerships and raise the necessary funding.

“It is positive that the public is starting to realise SA could face a water problem, but the issue is whether there is the political will to drive budgets for that.”

Senior associate head of consulting firm GIBB’s northern water division Jacques Laubscher said the government had made great strides in giving more people access to water but the problem lies in maintenance and operation.

“There are positive developments,” Mr Laubscher said. “Rural areas that were given water lacked skills to manage the infrastructure to start with, and there has been improvement. But we are still facing massive challenges.” Article from BD Live, Charlotte Mathews

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