The South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) has urged government to focus on targeted water infrastructure investment post Covid-19 to bolster jobs and the economy amid limited resources.
In a letter written to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the association advised a focus on infrastructure projects and interventions that are “carefully prioritised and well-targeted” to support employment and economic activity.
This formed part of an SAAE review of the strategic needs of different sectors of the economy, with a focus on the water, energy and transport sectors.
The association plans to produce a series of advisory notes on critical issues to inform and support the decisions of all tiers of government.
The first publication of the advisory notes focuses on securing reliable water supplies to sustain the economy.
“Investment in water infrastructure can build long-term resilience through partnerships that kickstart economic activity, create jobs and ensure that all of our compatriots have enough safe, accessible and reliable water,” the SAAE said in a statement.
“Targeted action in the water sector can make an important contribution to help South Africa recover from Covid-19.”
The advisory note pointed out that South Africa’s water security is tenuous and declining, its cracks revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If this continues, the next crisis that South Africa faces could be caused by widespread failures of water services,” the academy warned, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic will leave South Africa even poorer and weaker than it was prior to the crisis.
“If the vulnerabilities in the water sector are not effectively addressed, the resulting failures will further aggravate unemployment and poverty.”
The advisory note recommended the implementation of an urgent strategic infrastructure investment programme, with opportunities identified for social partnerships that will help to complement government’s limited human and financial resources.
“Post-Covid-19 plans must therefore be prioritised to tackle the right issues in the right way to put the country back onto a more sustainable development path,” the SAAE said.
The association warns, however, that projects must be carefully selected and properly implemented, suggesting tried-and-tested project finance mechanisms used by the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority for the Lesotho Highlands and other projects.
This will allow water users to fund major projects with limited recourse to government’s budget, while the involvement of private sector water users will help to ensure efficient design, implementation and operation.
“We believe that partnerships between the public, private and professional sectors can drive effective action on these priorities. The fellows of SAAE are available to support the Ministers of Water and Sanitation and Cooperative Government and their local and national partners to build better and achieve these common goals,” SAAE promised in the letter to Ramaphosa.
“Our overriding message is that, unless we move forward in partnership to fix the country’s water sector, our future is at risk,” the association warned.
The advisory note recommended four high-level priorities for action.
Including the prioritisation of strategic investments to implement the urgent infrastructure development programme effectively and efficiently, the note pointed to the halting of wasteful investment and incompetent management across South Africa’s municipalities.
Further recommendations include the rebuilding of South Africa’s water management institutions by developing and empowering a new cadre of water resource planners and managers to monitor, guide and manage the use of the country’s scarce water resources and work with citizens to improve water management by sharing information on the state of services and natural resources and mobilising local action to address local problems.