South Africa’s Multiple Water Challenges
When it comes to South Africa’s key infrastructure and developmental challenges, the provision of water stands out as a unique case. While transport, electricity and other services provided by the public sector are important for growth, water is a basic essential for survival.
In addition, South Africa faces several challenges when it comes to water supply.
Firstly, we need to gather, store and distribute water in a country that, with its mix of climate systems and variability of rainfall, is particularly exposed to droughts and other extreme weather events, made more frequent and severe by climate change.
Secondly, as with other sectors in South Africa, much of our aging infrastructure needs to be replaced, upgraded or expanded, to meet current and future demand.
Thirdly, South Africa’s demographic and socioeconomic changes (eg urbanisation) mean that, in addition to providing water for all, there’s also an imperative to ensure that our water supplies are safe for consumption for our growing population.
And finally, our management of water also needs to consider other organisms that form part of our delicate ecosystem and contribute to our country’s biodiversity. Protection of our aquifers from toxic materials is essential for our survival and the other living forms we share this country with.
Against such a backdrop the key is to first recognise that no single role player can meet the challenges alone. From government (national, provincial and municipal) to private sector users and funders, collaboration will be the difference between success and failure. Where stakeholders can combine their requirements and their skills to ensure a viable funding solution is found, it can go a long way to addressing many of these challenges.
Despite these challenges, several opportunities for collaboration have been identified, including:
- Dovetailing large industrial user requirements with those of a community. This has already been applied in a number of cases successfully, where large industrial users have constructed or upgraded their water infrastructure to secure their water supply requirements, and in the process have also supplied water to the local community.
- Large industrial users can assist municipalities in fulfilling certain large capital expenditure needs. Municipalities present a particular challenge from a risk point of view, given a history of poor revenue collection, under-performance and irregular expenditure. Where funding for large projects can be sized based on the usage of large industries and corporates the projects can be significantly de-risked.
- Wastewater treatment and water re-usage. Acid mine drainage is one of the key environmental challenges South Africa faces, and the protection of aquifers should be a priority for all stakeholders. Here, the private sector, notably the mining community and SOEs, already work together to treat wastewater to industrial standards and to address the acid mine drainage problem. There is potential to further treat water to potable standards and to treat larger volumes overall.
Because water is such a basic necessity, failure to deliver can have major social repercussions that could spill over into the political landscape. This makes it even more important for all stakeholders to adopt a collaborative and innovative approach to tackle the multifaceted and complex challenges involved. As we have seen, there are existing examples to draw on and develop further. Collaboration of all stakeholders in this sector remains the key to addressing water challenges in South Africa.