The world has just over one decade to resolve the ever-diminishing supply of water, or face a 40% shortfall, and demand management is the fastest, cheapest strategy to get started on resolving the challenge.
One year after the release of a World Bank study that showed that maintaining a business-as-usual approach to managing water would lead to a significant deficit by 2030, World Bank senior water resources management specialist Nick Tandi on Friday said there was now a strengthening case for water stewardship.
“If we look at the solutions that are required to close that gap, it has become common knowledge that we have to start with demand,” he told media during a World Water Day networking event in Pretoria.
The event, hosted by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), was in honour of the yearly World Water Day, with South Africa adopting the United Nation’s campaign theme for this year, ‘Leaving no one behind: water for all’.
Tandi pointed out that the impact of the water deficit would vary across the world, with wider or narrower deficits being country dependent.
South Africa, well known as the thirtieth driest country in the world, has a semi-arid climate, with an average yearly rainfall of 465 mm, compared with the global average of 860 mm.
This leaves the country vulnerable with scarce, limited water resources.
“If South Africa maintains a business-as-usual approach to water resource management, it will face a 17% gap between water demand and supply by 2030.
“This supply-and-demand gap can damage economic growth and derail efforts to bring clean water and sanitation to its poorest communities,” Tandi, representing the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG), had previously noted at the Partnership for Growth Summit late last year.
The 2030 WRG, through South Africa’s Strategic Water Partners Network, has been facilitating collaborative action between the DWS, the private sector, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to deal with common water challenges.
The DWS on Friday reiterated that water security was one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa, with supply increasingly threatened by climate change, degradation of wetlands and water resources, situation of dams, water losses and escalating demand on the back of population growth, urbanisation, inefficient use and changing lifestyles.
“Water challenges pose critical risks to businesses, governments and communities alike. The only way we can tackle them is by deepening our collaboration within the water sector,” the department said.
“[Managing] demand costs less and it is more ecologically friendly,” Tandi said.
The DWS said South Africans currently consume more water per capita, at about 237 litres a day, than the world average of 173 litres a day.
Tandi outlined the case for water stewardship and a hard case for involving the private sector more in water resource management, particularly as they were driving the demand.
“That increased 40% gap, is largely going to be driven by industry, and the increase in supply for municipal services,” he explained.
The gaps, however, can not be closed by one community, company or country.
The World Bank’s high-level panel on water outcome document, titled ‘Making every drop count’, warned at the time that health, food security, energy sustainability, jobs, cities and ecosystems are increasingly at risk owing to the natural variability of the water cycle and growing water stress.
“The World Economic Forum’s latest global risk register, shows that, for the ninth year running, the international private sector has said that water, in the form of the water crisis, is one of the top five risks to the global economy. This makes the private sector a really good partner, because we are going into this for mutual need, for mutual benefit,” said Water Research Commission CEO Dhesigen Naidoo.
He said water stewardship should go beyond the current projects, noting that South Africa had invested in a strategy for the industrialisation of water and sanitation, as set out in the Industrial Policy Action Plan.
“There is no way that we will meet the [ambitions] of the Sustainable Development Goal 6 on the basis of the efforts of the public sector alone. We have to have very significant participation and partnership between the private sector and [the] public sector.”