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National water crisis looming in South Africa

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South Africa’s ageing water infrastructure is pushing the country away from reliable and safe water supplies, says Unisa Professor of Geography specialising in water resource administration, Anja du Plessis.

Speaking to 702, Du Plessis said that the deplorable 64% access to usable water in the country is being negatively affected by infrastructure that is more than three decades old and failing.

She said that old infrastructure that is not being maintained – similarly to how Eskom was managed – is leading to low water levels of water supply, as seen in Cape Town and Gqeberha.

South Africa is a water-scarce country and having a working infrastructure ensures that the small amount of rain that does fall is preserved.

On 3 August, the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation directorate advised residents to be more cautious about their water usage as current rainfall is noticeably lower than the year before.

This followed a warning by the Department of Water Sanitation of deteriorating water supplies in and around the Nelson Mandela Bay area, describing the situation as ‘dire’.

Severe drought in the southern Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which includes the coastal city of Gqeberha, has put reservoirs that supply a third of its 1.3 million people close to empty.

Municipal oversight and skills shortage

A recent study revealed that most municipalities do not have the skills and capacity to properly manage water infrastructure in the country, said Du Plessis.

Currently, water management falls under the ambit of local municipalities, which are infamously known to mismanage water administration, she said.

“The Department of Water and Sanitation has been struggling, and there have been various problems with water projects not completed. If we live in a perfect world, we should have a private agency that could audit our water resources so that we know what we’re sitting with and we can make informed decisions,” said Du Plessis.

Despite there being many water projects to address the current water crisis in Gqeberha and the looming crisis country-wide, more action needs to be done by the government, she said.

Du Plessis added that water administration and the sourcing of skills capable of dealing with the situation should fall under the mandate of the national government, not municipalities.

Operation Vulindela

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana has shown that progress in the water sector has been made under Operation Vulindlela, which aimed to accelerate the implementation of key growth-enhancing reforms.

Speaking at the release of the initiative’s second-quarter report on 7 August, Gondongwana said that draft legislation for the National Water Resource Infrastructure Agency has been finalised and will be published for public comment shortly.

He said that this would enable major investment into the country’s bulk water resources.

On top of investment, calls for the involvement of the private sector have been heard, with the establishment of a Water Partnerships Office between the Department of Water and Sanitation and the Department Bank of Southern Africa to open up private sector participation in water infrastructure and management.

Gondongwana said that additional reforms around the monitoring of water quality at a municipal level would have a fundamental impact on the way in which the water sector is managed and will ensure future water security.


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