Benoît Le Roy, CEO and co-founder of the South African Water Chamber explains…
THE chickens have come home to roost as persisting load shedding causes the failure of municipal water and sewage systems and potential food crop failure due to inadequate electricity for energising irrigation pumps. The water-energy nexus cannot be ignored, and radical actions are required to avoid the total collapse of South Africa’s basic services. Whilst writing this short piece, the Northern Cape farmers were again experiencing massive floods resulting in crop and infrastructure destruction.
The collapse of Eskom has resulted in the opening up of the electricity market to levels seen fifty years ago and bodes well for the water sector that is also in dire need of opening up and allowing the entry of private capital and skills. The big question is when, as the water sector is in dire straits, not unlike the electricity sector, and suffers an outdated architecture, stated by government, dating back to the 1950’s with some small but largely ineffective updates in the late 1990’s that we currently experience, we are now entering the 5IR and suffer from inaction and policy paralysis. Government’s own metrics reported in 2022 that the 2021 Green Drop audits of sewage plants resulted in a Green Drop compliance of only 3%, it may as well be 100% and is confirmation of a total system collapse as seem in Emfuleni and Ethekwini on a massive scale never seen before. We cannot continue to allow this to persist as we are destroying our receiving environment that sustains our food security, fauna and flora and our water reserve. Without fauna and flora, we are an expired society condemned to a miserable extinction, not an option surely.
Having stated this bleak reality, many when confronted turn the other way, that one needs to understand in its seriousness and the systemic risks to our society. We have to switch the action button and that is incumbent on all of us to do as active citizens and business leaving government no option but to comply. The head of Infrastructure Africa in the Presidency has published this month the dire state of infrastructure that is at best an overall “D”, no functional economy or dignity can be had at this level. Water features prominently as a high risk failed sector as its in the five pillars of the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 phases one and two.
The NRW, Non-Revenue Water, crisis has received plenty exposure and hovers at a national average of 41% with 90% of that, so 37%, physical leaks. So, over a third of all our precious water harnessed from our catchment areas, stored in expensive dams, conveyed and purified and distributed to users at great cost is lost by municipal delivery systems. This is the obvious national priority as it is surely wasteful expenditure to add new water to a leaking bucket, especially in a water scarce and under serviced country.
What is it going to take to get our water security sorted with its seriously needed economic multiplier effects and poverty alleviation. We are actually sitting on a massive economic turnaround once we start in earnest.