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‘Marshall plan’ needed to avert water disaster – SAWC

OUR water sector is in disarray. Reports from the Auditor General show the extent to which the Department of Water and Sanitation has been rendered technically bankrupt and institutionally weakened. This speaks to a process of institutionalized corruption that has paralysed the service providers – consulting engineers, equipment manufacturers, system integrators, financiers – reducing many companies to a state of virtual collapse. This has hit South Africa at a time of crisis. That crisis is driven by complex external forces over which government has little direct control. Deep and protracted drought has exposed the vulnerability of local economies to the risk of endemic water scarcity in a climate rapidly changing but in unpredictable ways. Coastal cities downstream of major water users in the hinterland that now constrains their own developmental aspirations. Human health risk is growing by the day as the more than 825 wastewater treatment works (WWTW’s), mostly managed by distressed municipalities, are collectively discharging more than 4.3 billion litres of untreated sewage into rivers daily. Bulk water treatment plant run by large SOE’s are increasingly unable to process highly contaminated feedstock sourced from polluted rivers. Service delivery failures have now rendered Makhanda, Emfuleni, Malutia-Phofung and Ugu paralysed, simply unable to generate viable solutions to their individual water crisis. Then we have two new challenges of monumental proportions – COVID-19 and the looming fiscal cliff.

The economy is in tatters, technical capacity is fractured, unemployment is growing and the fiscus is unable to fund the almost one trillion Rand needed to stabilize the water sector. Clearly this is in nobodies’ interest. What is needed is a Marshall Plan type of program designed to create an enabling condition for 5% plus economic growth to restore stability. That program has taken the form of the Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) that creates a platform for the sustained engagement between the public and private sectors in their mutual best interest. However, without water none of those economic development plans can amount to anything. Water is an economic enabler, so for every Rand spent in rejuvenating the sector, more than R4 is unlocked somewhere else in the economy. This multiplier is vital for sustained rejuvenation. This multiplier is unlocked in a circular economy where water is managed as a flux and used multiple times for different purposes and at different costs to different users.

This is where the SA Water Chamber comes in. It creates a formal platform specifically for water and sanitation that to date exists as only chapters within larger business associations. Each have insufficient focus and outcomes as the lack of progress clearly underpin. Those entities engaging in the business of water service provision are able to rapidly deploy their skills and capacity into a range of programs aligned with the National Water Master Plan, and the National Planning Commission, topped by the current development of the Implementation Master Plan being driven by the SAWC with all the relevant public and private stakeholders. The water chamber is an aggregator of skills, technologies and capital, to be deployed in a structured way in the national interest. An NPC has been created and registered with three Directors tasked to create the shell structure as a legally compliant instrument. An interim Steering Committee has been created to drive the process as far as is needed o rollout that is mandated by the inaugural founders of water and sanitation sector private stakeholders gathering in November 2019.

The Chamber has been fully represented on the PPGI and presented to all formal partners including the Presidency, NPC, Treasury, WRC, COGTA, DTIC and DBSA as well as existing formal structures such as the SWPN and NBI. We have aligned with the Chemical Association (CAIA) who will become the front end of the on boarding process as they have the capacity we lack at present. This will ensure full legal accountability and good corporate governance as we become an island of integrity powerful enough to counter the culture of impunity that has paralysed our country.

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