Waste no longer, or go without

WSP - BNR water treatment plant

Waste no longer, or go without! The message towards all consumers of water – industry, business, residential and agriculture – needs to be clear and definite if we are going to adapt to the “new normal” and effect lasting positive change in consumption behaviours; to protect remaining and future water resources.

South Africa is classed as the 30th driest country in the world and it has a high within-season variability of rainfall and uneven distribution of rainfall (43% of the rain falls on 13% of the land). This means that even during a good year of average rainfall the country’s water resources are already stretched in some regions. The direness of the arid situation now has certainly been exacerbated by extreme weather conditions in recent years, however, the current drought alone cannot be blamed for the present water crisis. Droughts typically move in cycles – where every decade or two the whole water system goes into ‘crisis’. But, this sense of crisis that we are feeling now has further been intensified by two fundamental problems; inadequate infrastructure management and wasteful water usage. 

Maintaining infrastructure networks

The infrastructure challenge is two-fold; firstly, despite the fact that no less than 21 million people have benefitted from a basic supply of water since 1994, there are still many areas around major cities or towns in South Africa that are underdeveloped and have limited access to clean running water. A study of 905 towns, (excluding metros and large cities,) found that 28% have inadequate water resources. On the other hand, with urbanisation and industrialisation across the country, demand for water services has grown at a faster pace than the infrastructure. And, in those more developed areas, much of the existing water infrastructure is rapidly ageing and hasn’t been maintained to standards that would ensure maximum efficiencies. In fact, up to 35% of the country’s water is lost due to leakages in the infrastructure networks. 

Then, if we review the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Draft National Water and Sanitation Masterplan (NW&SMP) it stresses that the remaining potential surface and groundwater sources is very limited. The stark reality is that without rain to replenish our dams and ground water resources, and unless something significant is done to improve water resource management and service delivery in the country – the situation will only worsen. 

Current projections forecast that without serious intervention we could face a 17% gap between supply and demand by 2030. This will have a significant influence on the country’s future economic and social sustainability. 

Changing habits of wasteful water usage

For decades people living in South Africa have being using water as though they are living in a water-rich country, with little regard for conservation. To put this into perspective, average daily water use in South Africa is around 237ℓ per capita, which is much higher than the world average of 173ℓ. For a water-scare country, this usage is too high and not sustainable. Hence the need for a clear message to reduce water waste. In the agricultural sector, which uses more than 60% of the water in the country, the biggest difference can be made through using more efficient irrigations systems and technologies. 

If we look at Cape Town and the threat of a Day Zero, for example, possibly one positive attribute to come out of the water crisis is that the community – businesses, residents and agriculture, alike – has learned to use water much more sparingly and responsibly. And, we can only hope that this learning will result in a lasting culture change towards sustainable water consumption habits – even when the emergency water resilience projects come online