The National Planning Commission’s (NPC’s) National Water Security Framework (NWSF) covers what is required to holistically protect South Africa’s scarce water resources, however, the country is weak in implementation.
NPC commissioner Dr Pulane Molokwane, discussing the plan during a stakeholder virtual dialogue, said that there was a need to view water holistically, from source to sea and back, covering the full hydrologic cycle.
The NPC, in line with the National Development Plan (NDP) imperatives of inclusive economic growth, poverty eradication and reducing inequality, identified 10 thematic areas which would be the pillars for a “near perfect” water security plan.
The working document, which continues to accept stakeholder comments, is the product of five years’ of stakeholder engagement.
The purpose of the webinar, ‘National Water Security Framework - Water as an Enabler’, was to highlight the challenges and recommendations identified in the NWSF, along with the opportunities for improvement.
The framework shows that South Africa is water insecure owing to a backlog in water infrastructure, insufficient maintenance and investment, inequality in access to water and deteriorating water quality, as well as climate change.
South Africa has had many successes, being at the forefront of several water sector initiatives in the region, and boasts world-renowned water policy and legislation, with water legislation providing correct and clear guidance on water management.
However, the country’s transformation and implementation have remained a serious challenge.
South Africa has struggled to implement some of the policies it advocates. The root causes of many of its implementation problems are known; however, its repeated inability to timeously address these has resulted in an aggregation of the problems to the extent that they have progressively and cumulatively become systemic, says Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Specialist strategic water management Ashwin Seetal.
He also points out that there is a reactionary, as opposed to proactive, approach in many cases.
The framework aims to bring a fresh and objective look at gaps and provides an opportunity for continuous evaluation and interventions at a higher level, Molokwane says.
“Our analysis may not be entirely accurate, but it is enough to give us a picture of what really sets us back in the water sector,” she said, noting that, in terms of implementation, about five to 15 years have been lost.
“We need to start with policy and legislation review, despite having some good frameworks, to take stock of what has not worked for use over the past 26 years,” she says.
A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and difficulties in implementation is urgently required and there is a deliberate and concerted effort required to deal with the challenges to ensure water security for South Africa’s current and future socioeconomic development needs.
The framework, said to be the first of its kind in South Africa, aims to guide all water-related policies across the governance system in terms of short-, intermediate and long-term planning and support; strengthen implementation and ensure that it is managed at a level that allows for holistic oversight and fosters cross-departmental and sectoral integration; ensure national accountability linked to mandates across the governance system to address the challenge of department-specific mandates that impact on water and sanitation; and provide cross-sectoral water security through full engagement of stakeholders at all levels.
The document recommends the adoption of the NWSF as a national guide, as well as the adoption of a relational definition of water security for South Africa, in addition to the United Nation’s water definition.
Another recommendation is the adoption of eight principles, which the NPC believes will be key to the success in implementing the NWSF, namely source to sea across the water value chain/water cycle; a long-term view based on scenario planning and associated risks; policy and legislation as starting point; a nexus approach to planning, implementation and management; decision support from credible information and research results; mass balance approach to assessment and implementation; accountability and clear roles and responsibility; and total value chain ownership concept in context of the trusteeship doctrine.
Alongside this are ten focus areas: narrowing the inequality gap; water infrastructure and finance; diversifying water sources; water research, monitoring and information; nexus aspects of water security; ecological infrastructure; water and spatial planning; enabling planning for water security; managing water risks; and communication and stakeholder empowerment.
Another recommendation is establishing NWSF implementation oversight, monitoring and evaluation.