“Anything else you are interested in is not going to happen if you cannot breathe the air and drink water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”
Although two thirds of the Earth is covered with water, only 3% is freshwater. Most of our freshwater is inaccessible and found in glaciers and icecaps. Only about 0.003% of the world’s freshwater supplies are accessible for use, making water a scarce commodity.
South Africa is a dry country with a climate that is mostly arid or semi-arid. Droughts occur frequently and have severe ecological, social and economic consequences. It is forecasted that water demand in the country will exceed supply by 2025.
During the apartheid era, supply of clean and safe drinking water to black communities was not a priority for the then government. Only 59% of the population had access to clean water. Through sustained initiatives by the government after 1994, 94.8% of the population now have access to clean and safe drinking water. The initiatives were established to correct the inequalities of apartheid and ensure even distribution of water. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world which have entrenched the right of its citizens to have sufficient water into its constitution.
Free basic water is provided.
Nomvula Mokonyane, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Sanitation, has the responsibility to keep water flowing during one of the worst droughts the country has experienced in 30 years. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is the custodian of all water resources in the country and is committed to effectively managing the nation’s water resources to ensure equitable and sustainable socio-economic development and universal access to water and dignified sanitation.
Five key strategies to reduce water shortages
It is important for DWS to shift public perceptions about the value of clean water as a scarce resource. Speaking to TSB Review, Mokonyane shared five key strategies to effectively reduce water stress.
1. Reduction of water consumption
The aim is to achieve significant domestic and industrial water use reduction. Water rations were implemented to reduce consumption. The DWS is planning to invest in innovative water saving solutions such as the Drop the Block campaign. The campaign promotes the method of dropping a plastic block filled with sand into the toilet cistern to help reduce the volume of water used when flushing a toilet.
DWS will continue to implement water transfer schemes to communities in need to improve drought resilience. Eradication of invasive alien plants, which consume large amounts of water, is also on the agenda.
Surface water resource management and eliminating illegal water connections. Investment in new technologies for managing water resources.
Apart from the drought situation, South Africa has been losing water through leaks due to the ageing and dilapidated infrastructure, as a result, the country has been paying billions of rands a year for non-revenue water. More than 25% of municipality water is lost due to leaks.
All municipalities are now called upon to set aside eight percent of their operational budgets for the maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure.
2. Desalination of seawater to be ramped up
3. Improved water management, catchment and harvesting
DWS is promoting the increased collection of rainwater for consumption, livestock and irrigation. Rain water harvesting is encouraged through provision of free water harvesting tanks in communities. All municipal and privately owned dams will be incorporated into the water catchment management system. Groundwater and surface water use will be integrated in the future. In addition DWS is implementing projects to build additional storage capacity and increase water supply.
The Vaal Gamagara project, which involves the development of additional groundwater resources to supply the anticipated water demands in support of the Northern Cape mining and other social requirements, has been implemented.
Plans are in place to extend the distribution system of Clan William Dam to cover areas beyond Matzikama and Cederberg areas.This willmake Clanwilliam Dam a catalyst for development in the West Coast Region and ensure that beneficiaries in the land restitution process have access to water to redress imbalances of the past.).
Other major projects that are in the pipeline and some implemented include the Lower Thukela Regional Bulk Water and Pongolapoort Bulk Water Scheme both in KwaZulu-Natal; Mogalakwena Bulk Water Supply in Limpopo; Namakwa Bulk Water Supply in the Northern Cape; Hoxane Water Treatment Works and Lushushwane Bulk Water Supply in Mpumalanga.
4. Water recycling
Large scale projects focusing on the re-use of water were implemented, (recycling of effluent, focus on coastal towns where treated effluent is disposed off via sea outfalls and not taken into account in return flows). Building on the success of immediate and short-term interventions to deal with the problem of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand area, DWS is implementing a more permanent solution to the challenge which will substantially increase water supply to the Vaal River System).
Consumption habits and lifestyle choices concerning water can be changed through education. South Africa has a very high per capita water use indicating that consumers waste water. In an effort to encourage water literate citizenry and supporting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD),DWS established a Water Education Programme that integrates water education into the mainstream curriculum through extra mural activities and curriculum aligned content for the classroom.
In collaboration with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA),DWS has been implementing the Eco-Schools programme which is an international programme of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that was developed to support environmental learning in the classroom.
The programme is active in 58 countries and seeks to create awareness and action around environmental sustainability in schools and their surrounding communities.Last year this DWS / WESSA Eco-Schools collaborative effort received a Water Conservation Award at the 2015 Eco-Logic Awards. Through this successful government and civil society partnership, more than 50 South African schools were assisted with managing their water resources sustainably.
Mitigating drought related water shortages
To respond to the pressures brought about by the recent drought, DWS reprioritised an amount of R502 million. Over and above this, programmes funded by grants such as Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG), Municipal Water Infrastructure Grant (MWIG) and the Accelerated Community Infrastructure Project (ACIP) have been refocused to mitigate drought related water shortages.
The most significant emergency and short term mitigation measures financed in 94 municipalities through the re-prioritisation process include emergency transfer schemes channelling water to drought stricken areas and water carted to communities by motorized tankers. Work was done in the refurbishing of boreholes, implementing spring protection and conducting repairs to infrastructure. Water affected by AMD was treated and 80 000 litres static tanks were erected in worst affected communities. In extreme cases water ratios were implemented.
Lesotho Highlands Water Project
Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP-2), which is required to augment the Vaal River System through the transfer of additional volumes of water from Lesotho, has commenced. The water delivery component of the project will involve the construction of a new dam (Polihali Dam), Polihali-Katse tunnel and associated infrastructure at an estimated cost of R22.9 billion with water delivery scheduled for 2024.
Plans aimed at extending the Lesotho Highlands water network to Botswana have commenced through the development of the Vaal Gamagara. The expected completion for this phase is March 2018. Total project budget without Botswana is R13 billion and the total project budget including Botswana are estimated at R18, 4 billion
DWS’s structured and continued interaction with its stakeholders enabled them to mitigate the drought impacts under the guidance of the National Water Resources Strategy. The strategy supports the transformation of the sector through protecting and conserving this limited resource.
A major challenge to planning and implementing the mitigation measures was that the hydrological drought reduced the availability of water resources, thus creating a greater demand for water.Through joint efforts, government ensured the continued provision of water in areas that were severely affected by the drought.
As a contribution to Inclusive Growth, Rural Development and Land Reform and DWS implemented initiatives that support the Resource Poor Farmers project with access to water through the Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) program. Cumulatively, 862 rainwater harvesting tanks have been installed.
It is not all about flushing
Efforts towards a complete eradication of bucket toilets in formal households have seen significant progress, with only the Free State and Northern Cape projects still not having been completed. However, the realities of water scarcity, the geographic spread of communities in relation to services and the availability of supporting infrastructure underscores the challenges of this project.
In light of this, DWS continues to advance the sanitation revolution that seeks to break the stereotype that full water borne sanitation is the ultimate level of service and that other technologies are inferior.
The sanitation theme “It is not all about flushing” recognises that potable water is a critical source and can no longer be used for flushing toilets. To give effect to some of the revolutionary principles, DWS has already started implementing a grey water Recycling system in the Nketoana and Setsoto Local Municipalities of the Free State Province.
War on Leaks – Building skilled capacity to mitigate water loss
DWS launched the War on Leaks programme in August 2015 to build the human resource capacity required to mitigate the water losses and ensure provision of qualified plumbers and artisans. The aim of the skills development programme is to support infrastructure rehabilitation and the development of maintenance plans.
Currently, about 3000 trainees are undergoing training, with a further admission of 7000 trainees which will form part of the second phase of the project scheduled for August 2016. In 2017 a further intake of 5000 trainees will be recruited from all the nine provinces.
Though many graduates of the War on Leaks programme will be placed in the municipalities with high water losses, DWS will encourage the private sector and other organisations to absorb the new plumbers, artisans and water agents.
Since 1994, DWS has consistently provided comprehensive bursaries to deserving students to pursue studies in surveying, engineering, environment, science and other water and sanitation related studies.
In addition, DWS awarded bursaries and MTN Foundation sponsored multimedia classrooms to learners in rural districts across the provinces through its Youth in water programme called Baswa le Meetse.
DWS has also provided interns and graduate trainees with opportunities for experiential learning in their Learning Academy. The trainees are mentored and further assisted to receive professional registration status to explore opportunities while enabling them to meet industry standards.
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03 October 2018