Treat water like the precious resource it is – GIBB

25th October 2022

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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South Africans need to conserve water systematically and effectively, and a holistic countrywide educational strategy needs to be implemented and maintained to cultivate a culture of treating water as the precious resource that it is, says GIBB senior design engineer Mohammed Nazzal.

“While the majority of us may take water for granted every time we open our taps, we should refrain from causally and excessively consuming the resource simply because it is there, or think that it will always be there.”

South Africa’s good rainy season so far has helped replenish the storage capacity of many dams across the country.

However, despite dam water levels currently being in good standing, most at levels higher than those recorded during the same period last year, the country will need at least the next two rainy seasons to register above-average levels to achieve short-term water recovery targets.

South Africa has been in this situation before, he says, with year-on-year changes in water levels merely a short-term view of the amount of water that the country currently has access to.

“This means that for most areas, the likelihood of imminent water-shedding on the back of water deficiencies is low, however, some regions will still be affected,” Nazzal explains.

“Water-shedding in South Africa is fast becoming a reality, and while not taking place on a national scale as yet, the frequency of disruptions in water delivery systems owing to water shortages is greatly increasing.”

“Most recently, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape fell victim to this, with water-shedding being implemented in June this year. This as construction contracts to integrate the city’s water reticulation systems were delayed for several years, coupled with political divisions and jurisdiction disputes that further contributed to the city’s deteriorating water situation,” he points out.

Stopping short of calling it a ‘crisis’ or ‘catastrophe’, he says that the water challenges are an outcome of many contributing factors.

Contributors to potential water-shedding include corruption, mismanagement, incompetence, poor planning, wasteful spending and political conflict - factors that are within society's influence or control.

“A glimpse of how these factors have had a negative impact on the country’s water situation can be found in the 2022 Blue Drop Progress Report, which includes audited results from 144 water service authorities in the country. The report found that 48% of South Africa’s water supply systems are in the low-risk category, with 23% in the critical risk category and 11% deemed high risk,” he explains.

While it is one thing to have access to water, it is equally important to have access to good quality water, with the contamination levels of the country’s rivers, streams and dams a worrying trend.

The 2022 Green Drop Report indicated that, of the 850 audited wastewater systems in the country, only 23 passed the minimum score of 90% - a substantial decline from the 2013 audit, where 60 wastewater systems achieved the minimum score.

“South Africans are by now well aware of the impact of resource shedding, most evident in the form of loadshedding. A significant contributor to the country’s water problem, loadshedding disrupts the water treatment process and water pumping operations and stretches the ability of the existing water storage capacity to accommodate for these.”

However, with loadshedding, alternative sources of energy can be made accessible, which is not the case with water, as there is no alternative, leading to more dire consequences.

There is no quick fix either.

Well-planned and well-managed solutions are needed to address the situation in the long-term, including water-saving measures and reducing the demand on the water system while there is still an allowable margin to do so.

“Educating the public on the basics of the water cycle in relation to their own locale will help them better understand and appreciate not only the value of water, but also the infrastructure put in place to deliver the resource to them.

“The public will then recognise shortcomings in servicing and maintenance of the existing water systems in their areas and aid in enforcing accountability in respect of officials and politicians who may underperform,” Nazzal notes.

While corruption in the system will continue to be a long-term battle, people need to be conditioned to fight against it rather than accepting it as a part of life in South Africa.

“Advocating simple principles of electing and employing those who qualify for the roles and responsibilities based on their technical merit and expertise will go a long way towards resolving some of the inherent problems currently impeding real progress.”

In addition, proper maintenance of all components in the existing water infrastructure, including water treatment, delivery systems, wastewater collection or treatment systems, must be observed.

“Performance levels of operation and maintenance services must be kept high, and any compromises to that cannot be entertained. To highlight the importance of maintenance, the 2017 benchmarking of water losses in South Africa reported that 41% of municipal water does not generate revenue, while 35% is physically lost.”

Dealing with balancing water supply and water demand requires comprehensive planning and implementation strategies, and while a National Water and Sanitation Masterplan is already in place, polishing these plans and managing them requires continued cooperation and participation of both the public and private sectors.

As such, local, regional, national and cross-border optimisation of water resources requires dedicated effort from all stakeholders.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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