By Jessie Taylor
Water is a fundamental resource to life, development and economic growth, yet many South Africans find it difficult to access this resource.
South Africa is a water-scare country facing the challenges of a growing demand for water alongside ageing infrastructure. But a renewed focus will ensure that collaboration improves both access to water and the quality of the water in both taps and rivers.
Catering for a growing water demand
Recently, the Water and Sanitation Ministry held a two-day National Water and Sanitation Summit at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand. The summit followed several Ministerial Working Sessions undertaken by the Ministry, aiming to assess, address challenges and find lasting solutions faced by the sector.
The summit aimed to draft immediate actions to improve water and sanitation services provision. The event comes after a series of working sessions that Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu carried out after being appointed to the post in August 2021. He visited each province to understand the service delivery challenges they are facing and to unlock bottlenecks hampering the completion of projects.
South Africa’s water demand exceeds its supply, said Minister Mchunu. On average, water consumption in South Africa is 221 litres per person each day. The world average is 123 litres.
Despite full dams and rivers, water often fails to reach communities and household taps, said Minister Mchunu. This is often a result of water losses and service delivery failures.
Minister Mchunu said municipalities lose as much as 60% of water due to failing infrastructure, low budgets and poor skills. The average loss reported by municipalities was at 40%, the lowest level of losses sat at 26%.
The Department owns 323 of South Africa’s 5 641 dams. Other government departments own 86 dams, while water boards own 121. This requires municipalities to have arrangements with other entities, contributing to some of the country’s supply problems, as municipalities are responsible for reticulation. In contrast, other entities take care of bulk water supply.
Working towards a cleaner future
Addressing industry experts and stakeholders at the summit, Minister Mchunu emphasised a need for collaboration between the public and private sectors, communities and industry experts to ensure the country’s future water security.
Minister Mchunu says work was already under way to establish these partnerships.
“In addition to private-public partnerships, we have identified the need for all three spheres of government to work together because ultimately, we are in office through the will of the people, and we have to serve with honour.”
One of the Water and Sanitation measures implemented include the Blue and Green Drop Certification Programmes, which was disbanded in 2014. Through incentive-based regulation, these programmes will focus on providing good quality drinking water and managing wastewater quality.
The reports on the programmes are expected to be published later this month. These reports will allow the public to know the quality status of the water provided to them and discharged into their environment.
Essentially, the Green Drop programme measures water quality in South Africa’s rivers, while the Blue Drop programme measures water quality in the taps. This programme is vital for creating compliance in the industry, especially as 56% of municipal wastewater treatment works were considered poor or critical in 2019. More than 40% of water treatment plants were considered in poor or critical condition.
“As a sector regulator, we are focused on ensuring that compliance to legislation takes cause and remains dedicated to safeguarding those risks revealed through these programmes,” Minister Mchunu said.
The Department will also implement a review of Water Boards as a tool for them to improve performance and will establish a National Water Resource Infrastructure Agency. Water Boards must be economically viable to offer improved waters delivery to municipalities, explained Minister Mchunu.
“We have scientific backing that South Africa is a water-scarce country, and it is for this reason that we all have to pull our weight to safeguard this precious resource. We will not hesitate to take stern actions against people who think it is okay to vandalise infrastructure. This comes to a stop now,” the Minister said.
South Africa’s water landscape in numbers
- 3-million households don’t have access to clean water
- 290 000 km of pipelines make up South Africa’s water infrastructure
- 1/3 of all water leaks are due to broken pipes
- 962 water purification plants exist in South Africa
- 1150 wastewater treatment plants are found in the country