Turton urges SA to integrate water, energy and agricultural policies

11th September 2009 By: Christy van der Merwe

South Africa must link its water, energy, and food security policies, urged Touchstone Resources director Dr. Anthony Turton, emphasising that the relationship between these three areas was inseparable.

Focusing on the interdependence of these systems, Turton explained that South Africa’s resource constraints to growth and development were energy, and water, and argued that the country’s energy constraint was largely defined by water.

He said that water allocation in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia has reached a point where future economic development was potentially constrained, and water service provisioning has already become a major and sensitive issue. Thus the need to link water, energy and food security policies, was imperative.

“Water quality is a national problem, and strategic water issues will drive energy reform,” added Turton.

He said that the sulphur cycle was of particular importance in South Africa, and the combustion of coal for energy caused acid rain, which in turn threatened regional food security. Acid rain caused pollen tube deformation in maize, by mobilising aluminium.

Turton further explained that South Africa’s coal deposits coincide largely with the country’s best agricultural land, which meant that the priority put on coal for energy, was destroying the country’s agricultural capacity, particularly because of acid mine drainage.

END OF THE DAM BUILDING ERA

Turton explained that Africa converts the smallest amount of precipitation into runoff, which can be used for water requirements, compared with all other continents.

The major reason for this was the high amount of evaporation. As much as 88% of the continent’s precipitation evaporates. “Evaporation is the enemy - this is the developmental constraint. The inability to convert precipitation into runoff,” said Turton.

South Africa is no exception, and because the country has insufficient base-flow for reliable development, the need to build water storage and transfer infrastructure, such as huge dams, became the solution.

Dams in South Africa are severely affected by evaporation.

“An assurance of water supply has resulted from these major engineering interventions, however, this has had unintended consequences. We cannot do much more of this ‘hard path’ approach,” said Turton.

“We are reaching the end of the dam building era. We must think about ground water recharge, and look at other potential storage opportunities,” he added.

As climate change became an increasing concern, Turton explained that the country would likely experience hotter and drier conditions, and evaporation would become even more of an issue.

Turton said that South Africa was reaching the limit of its resource, and was now transitioning into an uncertain future. This water limitation affects food security and energy supply.

Turton argued the need for a new national vision based on what he called the Wealth model, which took into account: water; energy, affordability; leadership; technology; and health. Linking water, energy and food security strategies would lead to sustainability, which would ensure human and ecosystem health.