CAPE TOWN – The acute water shortage in South Africa’s tourism capital Cape Town almost cost it crucial revenue when the organisers of an annual international mining conference considered scrapping this year's event in the city.
But the Investing in African Mining Indaba went ahead this week despite strict water use restrictions imposed by the city, and has already yielded overtures of expertise on how to source underground water, from some companies involved in drilling.
Despite its proximity to the Indian ocean, Cape Town faces the real prospect of soon running out of usable water due to a prolonged drought, and has imposed a limit of 50 litres per individual, raising fears that this might chase away international tourists drawn by natural wonders such as Table Mountain.
London-based Mining Indaba, organiser of the conference which draws hundreds of representatives of mining companies to Cape Town every year, mulled not coming this year to avoid adding strain on the city's water system, managing director Alex Grose said.
“We had to speak to local government structures, tourism boards (about whether) do we consider not coming this year, and that was a serious consideration,” Grose told the African News Agency (ANA).
“On reflection the balance for the good that this brings to the economy; the investments that it brings and the jobs weighed in favour. Then it was a question of educating people – be responsible about the way you behave; you don’t need to have half an hour showers – and working with our partners to provide bathrooms without water.”
Some delegates were initially bemused to find dry water taps in restrooms at the conference, but most took the use of hand sanitisers as an alternative, in their stride.
“It was not a problem at all,” said one delegate from the mines ministry in Burkina Faso, who declined to be named.
“In my country we also have a water problem. I see that here, one person can use 50 litres of water, in Burkina Faso it’s much less than that.”
Mohamed Amine Sebbar, head of mining promotion department at Morocco’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines, said Cape Town's water challenges would not deter his country from attending the conference next year.
“We can understand the situation because you have a shortage of water. This is the minimum that we could do to help,” he said.
Grose said the Mining Indaba worked with sponsors to run the conference without drawing any water from the City of Cape Town.
“Three quarters was from a private spring that wouldn’t go into Cape Town and a quarter was actually bought from the city and treated to make it drinkable.”
Mining Indaba donated R100 000 to disaster relief group Gift of the Givers which is working to collect bottled water and dig boreholes for stricken communities.
“A lot of people have showed interest, lots of expertise has been offered by the different mining companies especially the ones that have drilling expertise,” Gift of the Givers regional director Muhammad Sooliman told ANA.
Conference delegate Wendy Treasure, from the International Women in Mining Group, said historical water problems in her hometown of Perth in Australia had prepared her for even stiffer restrictions than she experienced in Cape Town.
“We were very much prepared for having stop clocks on our showers, hand sanitisers, wet wipes; we really thought it would be far more strict than it was,” Treasure said.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to have so many people coming from overseas and experiencing firsthand what happens when you have to deal with water restrictions.
"But I’m not sure that that message was necessarily delivered and received by the vast number of international attendees, who might not have had any real restrictions to their water use.”