Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu pleaded with water sector stakeholders to rally behind ensuring that water supply exceeds water demand during his keynote address at the fifth Water Research Commission Symposium held on September 20.
The symposium was also attended by Kenyan High Commissioner Beatrice Karago, Water and Sanitation Deputy Ministers Dikeledi Magadzi and David Mahlobo, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister Thembi Nkadimeng, Water Research Commission (WRC) chairperson Dr Nozi Mjoli, and WRC CEO Dhesigen Naidoo, besides others.
Mchunu highlighted that all obligations imposed by the Constitution of South Africa must be fulfilled since the government is based on the will of the people.
“Our mantra, as the DWS goes: ‘Water is life. Sanitation is dignity'. This highlights the importance of our mandate as it is anchored on two very fundamental human rights – the right to life and the right to human dignity,” Mchunu said.
He pointed out some of the challenges regarding water availability and potential solutions. Among these, he highlighted drought that continues to be experienced in some parts of the country and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated water and sanitation challenges.
He further urged the WRC to continue with its growing momentum in addressing South Africa’s water quantity and water quality challenges through innovation and new technologies.
In a statement issued last month, water technology company Xylem South Africa strategy and marketing manager Chetan Mistry claimed that half of the country's water comes from only 10% of its surface area, and in some cases, such as in Johannesburg, additional water is sourced from outside our borders.
Data from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environmental shows that 57% of local river ecosystem types are considered to be threatened, almost half of which are critically endangered. Moreover, of the 300 000 wetlands in South Africa, 65% are critically endangered.
Mistry explained that wetlands and rivers are critical to help filter water and top up aquifers. However, only 11% of these have some form of formal protection.
“We can turn the situation around. We know much more today about water management and there are many best practices that can make differences at the macro and micro levels. Water challenges that seemed unsolvable not so long ago are now much easier to tackle. It's a matter of will and focus,” Mistry stated.
Mchunu agreed that sustained investments in innovative technologies and solutions would transfigure sanitation.
“Technologies that can use less water or no water at all are the future of our country, the continent, and the global community. As a water sector we need to embrace technological innovations and recognise them as the gamechanger we need in order to secure our water, now and in the future,” Mchunu stated.
Mistry recommended several interventions to make local water a more sustainable resource.
Better irrigation practices can make a difference, since irrigation consumes about 65% of all surface water. Many still rely on wasteful irrigation systems and there is room to introduce new techniques such as drip irrigation. Farmers can also benefit from better soil and watering monitoring systems, removing the guesswork about how much water crops need.
Improved performance of water infrastructure is necessary. South Africa benefits from a vast array of water infrastructure, including large dams and substantial pipelines feeding into cities and towns. However, research suggests that as much as 37% of water in the system is lost through leaks.
“Using technologies such as Xylem's Smartball acoustic sensor, we can detect leaks before becoming a serious problem. Xylem also provides new ways to monitor and manage wastewater easily,” Mistry said.
The education of urban users on saving water is key.
“It's too easy to take water for granted. Businesses that consciously want to save on water costs can train their staff. Such education is even more effective when working with communities,” he added.
Stakeholders should collaborate more to create sustainable practices around water resources. Environmental monitoring and analysis services should be taken advantage of to better understand the needs of local water catchment areas such as wetlands, aquifers and rivers.
Finally, Mistry said that water reuse should be encouraged and that water discharging should be done responsibly.
“Water becomes more sustainable if it's in a recycling loop,” he said.
This principle applies notably to two areas. First is to encourage people to reuse water, which could refer to purification for drinking, but also includes greywater for irrigation and capturing rainwater. Second is the responsible and discriminate discharge of wastewater to avoid unhygienic situations and the contamination of potable water.
Mchunu encouraged the water sector to be open to new ideas and approaches for delivering water services, stressing the importance of embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and “new ways of doing things”.