The world has just over one decade to resolve key water supply challenges or risk facing a 40% shortfall and demand management is seen as 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 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 observance of the yearly World Water Day on March 22, with South Africa adopting the United Nations’ (UN’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.Semiarid Climate
South Africa, well known as the thirtieth driest country in the world, has a semiarid climate, with 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), 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 reiterates that water security is one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa, with supply increasingly threatened by climate change, the degradation of wetlands and water resources, the siltation 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 says.
“[Managing] demand costs less and it is more ecologically friendly,” Tandi pointed out.
South Africans currently consume more water per capita, at about 237 ℓ a day, than the world average of 173 ℓ 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 industry was driving 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, cannot 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 were increasingly at risk, owing to the exacerbating natural variability of the water cycle and growing water stress.
The UN’s World Water Development Report 2019 report also warns of increasing global water scarcity, noting that a third of the world’s population lacks access to safely managed drinking water services and only two-fifths have access to safely managed sanitation provision.
“According to UN figures, 1.2-billion people globally live in areas of water scarcity, while 1.6-billion face economic water scarcity, owing to minimal or ineffective water supply infrastructure,” says not-for-profit organisation Relate CEO Neil Robinson.
Within the next six years, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in countires experiencing water stress, while 1.8-billion people will be living in countries with absolute water scarcity, he says.
“The World Economic Forum’s latest global risk register, which 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 [and] for mutual benefit,” says Water Research Commission CEO Dhesigen Naidoo.
Water stewardship should go beyond the current projects, he says, noting that South Africa has 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.”
Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Groundwater Management Institute (GMI) asserts the critical importance of groundwater for health and wellbeing, food production and economic growth.
“It is estimated that over 70% of the 280- million people living in the SADC region rely on groundwater as their primary source of water; however, groundwater resources face a number of risks, including pollution, depletion from overabstraction owing to rapidly growing water demand and the impacts of climate change,” says SADC-GMI executive director James Sauramba.
About 40% of the SADC region’s population have no access to an adequate safe drinking water supply, while more than 60% have no access to adequate sanitation services.
“Food security is now high on the international political agenda, following the peak prices of 2008 and the financial crisis of 2009.”
The increasing water scarcity in South Africa will also hit the country’s most vulnerable and underprivileged citizens.
“Water shortages in parts of South Africa are here to stay for most of us, but South Africa’s poor and those living in informal settlements are at greatest risk from waterborne diseases that stem from inadequate infrastructure and water scarcity,” says Robinson.
He cites a study by the African Centre for Cities that shows that 14% of Cape Town’s four-million residents live in informal housing, but account for only 4% of the city’s water consumption.