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Dhesigen Naidoo 

No drop to waste: Tackling South Africa’s water crisis

Having long since fled KwaZulu Natal and the Free State, fat, passing clouds scatter a handful of raindrops over Gauteng like rich men throwing coins at the poor. As the reality of full-blown drought settles in across much of the country, attention has turned to what we can do to mitigate the damage: building and repairing, restricting and cajoling, introducing new technologies, and encouraging new mindsets. ANDREA TEAGLE asks the water experts wherein the solutions to our water woes lie.

Droughts aside, South Africa is normally a dry country. At 464mm, our average yearly rainfall is about half the global average of 860mm. And, unlike in other parts of the world, our cities were built around mining, not water. Because of this, says CEO of the Water Research Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, “We generally have fairly good adaptation measures for dry spells. But what we are currently experiencing is not just a dry spell. To varying degrees, these five provinces, and this country, are experiencing a full-scale drought.”

To make things a little worse, the drought is taking place within a prolonged dry spell coinciding with El Niño, meaning that really good rains (a so-called “wet period”) might be five to seven years away. Climate-forecasting models predict that rainfall is going to become increasingly variable. So, we’re not just out to survive one drought, we’re out to adjust to a dryer future. Long-term measures include the construction of more storage facilities, including another large dam in Lesotho, Naidoo says.

First, though, we need short-term measures to relieve the water system pressure. The biggest of these is the so-called ‘War on Leaks’. Seven billion rand is lost a year through leaking pipes and taps, and collapsing infrastructure, Minister of Water Affairs, Nomvula Mokonyane, said on Sunday, referring to South Africa’s 37% non-billed water. That 37% of our water is lost to leakages has been repeated numerously over the last few days. This is inaccurate. Non-revenue water – the difference between the volume of water put into a water distribution system and the volume that is billed to customers – has three components. In addition to leaks, it comprises commercial loss (metering inaccuracies and water theft), and unbilled authorised consumption (free water given to certain groups). Water lost to leakages make up 25% of total water consumption and 68% of non-revenue water (NRW). For comparison’s sake, the World Bank estimates that NRW averages between 40 and 50% in developing countries.

Still, Naidoo argues, “That’s 7.2 billion lost in the system that could fund a whole range of measures to get us to a better place.”

And 9.3% of water lost through leakages, is still water that we can’t afford to lose. Minister Mokonyane said that R350-million would be allocated to drought related projects, and that a countrywide project would be launched to train 1500 youngsters to repair taps and pipes in their communities. As well as infrastructure upgrading, rainwater harvesting and water desalination plants are already being commissioned.

Of course, we like the sound of the War on Leaks, because leakages are not our fault, and they can be fixed without our having to change our own consumption. However, individual water use, is another important saving measure, both in the short and long term. Although it makes up a comparatively small part of the country’s water use (see chart below), household water is clean and drinkable, and thus more valuable than the water used for agricultural irrigation.  Read full article below.


  Daily Maverick Newsletter, 22 January 2016



Photo: Timothy Swinson via flickr
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