11.07.2018

2018 Agbiz Congress - Water: urgent call to action

Without intervention the national water deficit will be around 17% by 2030. Water availability could also deteriorate as supply contracts and demand escalate due to growth, urbanisation, inefficient use, degradation of wetlands, water losses and the negative impact of climate change. This was the opinion of Trevor Balzer, deputy director general: Strategic and Emergency Projects of the Department of Water and Sanitation, at the 2018 Agbiz Congress.

Without intervention the national water deficit will be around 17% by 2030. Water availability could also deteriorate as supply contracts and demand escalate due to growth, urbanisation, inefficient use, degradation of wetlands, water losses and the negative impact of climate change. This was the opinion of Trevor Balzer, deputy director general: Strategic and Emergency Projects of the Department of Water and Sanitation, at the 2018 Agbiz Congress.

Balzer said that over three million people still do not have access to a basic water supply service and 14.1 million people do not have access to safe sanitation. There is currently a heavily reliance on surface water (73% of South Africa's total available yield).

"We do not have a sufficiently diversified water mix. About 50% of South Africa’s water resources originate from 10% of the country’s land, but many of these 'water factories' are under threat.

“Between 1999 and 2011 the extent of the main rivers in South Africa being classified as having a poor ecological condition increased by 500%, with some rivers pushed beyond the point of recovery.

"South Africa has lost over 50% of its wetlands and of the remaining 3.2 million hectares, 48% are critically endangered with one third already in a poor condition. Approximately 56% of municipal wastewater treatment works and approximately 44% of water treatment works in the country are in a poor/critical condition and need urgent rehabilitation, with some 11% completely dysfunctional. This is having a significantly detrimental impact on the environment and is driving up the cost of water treatment," Balzer said.

More bad news, Balzer said, is that while the responsibility for water supply and sanitation lies with 144 municipalities that are Water Services Authorities (WSAs), at least a third of these are regarded as dysfunctional and more than 50% have no, or very limited, technical staff. Twenty-seven priority districts have been identified as being particularly dysfunctional and requiring specific intervention.

Selected proposed actions
Balzer said that all stakeholders would have to work together to ensure a water-secure future. His department has proposed action plans already.

"We will establish a specialised municipal intervention unit for water and sanitation (MIUWS) to drive the national programme of interventions. This includes the reintroduction of a Sector-Wide Approach (SWAP). We will also address financial sustainability issues across the sector to turn around the current poor levels of maintenance and refurbishment that are contributing to the decline in reliability of services and the high levels of wastage of water through leaks.”

Other plans include:

  • a national programme proposed to drive the reduction of non-revenue water levels to meet national and catchment targets; 
  • water conservation and demand management targets being set for all municipalities; 
  • metering of water use in the agricultural sector and the reconsideration of the subsidy on agricultural water charges driving water conservation;
  • a national programme proposed to support the adoption of alternative water sources such as desalination and water re-use; and 
  • a proposal being implemented to establish a water and agrarian reform programme to ensure that the reallocation of land and water are aligned and take place within a framework of agrarian reform and effective rural development.

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