Water and sanitation infrastructure should be a top priority as South Africa recovers from the devastation of the Covid-19-pandemic-guided restrictions.
A new Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) policy brief proposes an infrastructure and job creation response based on improving the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure.
“Having a robust and resilient water and sanitation system will enhance the capacity of the country to respond to various challenges, including those presented by future pandemics similar to Covid-19,” authors Shakespear Mudombi and Gaylor Montmasson-Clair argued in the brief.
The policy brief, titled ‘A case for water and sanitation in South Africa’s post-lockdown economic recovery stimulus package’, highlighted a number of complementary interventions to ensure water and sanitation remains part of the economic recovery strategy.
Investing in infrastructure will offer multiple benefits for the economy and job creation, as well as protect employment and livelihoods with about three-million jobs highly water-dependent, the greatest proportion of which are in the agricultural sector.
The roll-out of water and sanitation infrastructure has the potential to stimulate industrial development while boosting South Africa’s already well-established local capacity in the water sector.
“This can open opportunities for import substitution, particularly for pipes, pumps and valves as well as automation and control equipment, and reduce South Africa’s dependence on imports.
“In addition, it can provide opportunities for small businesses to participate,” Montmasson-Clair and Mudombi pointed out.
Further, improving access to water and sanitation will contribute to reducing multidimensional poverty and inequality, the scale of which was highlighted during the Covid-19 crisis.
Benefits will be seen for poor communities in need of water infrastructure and services and for municipalities requiring a strengthening of their water and wastewater infrastructure.
“Investing in water and sanitation allows governments to tap into opportunities arising from the shift to a circular economy – one where less resources are used and waste is recycled into other uses or reuse,” the duo noted.
The policy brief’s proposed interventions include addressing nonrevenue water, fostering water demand management, investing in water and wastewater treatment, building ecological infrastructure and rolling out appropriate sanitation systems.
“To implement these strategies, different options will need to be explored and their suitability would depend on the context. Some will need a change in legislation and institutional arrangement to overcome current technical and skills limitations in various municipalities,” the report commented, pointing to the key challenge of a lack of financial and human resources faced by municipalities.
Having targeted subsidies for the poor, cost-reflective tariffs for other users and more accurate billing and reduction of losses can contribute to the much-needed revenues and bolster financial resources.
The authors suggested different forms of private-public partnership arrangements that are tailored to specific needs to create synergy and share risks and rewards between the public and private sector.
“The inclusion of measures to tackle water and sanitation challenges in South Africa’s Covid-19 stimulus package is an opportunity to bridge the water and sanitation gaps, through rolling out locally-manufactured solutions that would also strengthen the country’s global competitiveness and export potential,” Montmasson-Clair and Mudombi concluded.