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There can be no doubt of the pivotal role played by high quality of drinking water in attracting foreigners, says Themba Khumalo.
Pretoria - There are few countries in the world that have scarce water resources and still maintain a high quality of drinking water for millions of its citizens, like South Africa does. Although the country has been warned by international organisations, including the World Bank, to start saving water if it did not want to end up as a desert in the next 30 years, its citizens still enjoy the luxury of safely drinking water directly from the tap.
This is thanks to our sound water policies, which have been hailed as among the best in the world, despite the scarcity of water scientists and resources.
Since 1994 the government, spearheaded by the Department of Water Affairs, has been working to maintain our high water standards, which compare favourably with world class requirements.
And an increasing number of tourists continues to flock to the country to share the thrill of drinking water directly from the tap without the fear of compromising their health.
According to the Minister of Tourism, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, tourism figures have grown from 3 million in 1994 to 13.5 million in 2012, putting the country among the top destinations for foreign visitors in the world.
The figure represents a phenomenal growth of 300 percent, which is unprecedented in the history of a country that had emerged from oppression and isolation.
This has prompted the government to identify tourism as one of the top six priorities of the New Growth Path, strictly focusing on growth and job creation.
Given this sudden interest in South Africa, there can be no doubt of the pivotal role played by water in attracting foreigners in their droves.
The hospitality industry is also playing a critical role by urging holidaymakers to conserve water.
The magic of our clean water supply can be traced to 1994, when the new government came to power and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry overhauled and refined the country’s water laws.
The old Water Act of 1956 was replaced with the National Water Act of 1998, which sought to change the archaic notion of “water for some” to “water for all”. New slogans such as “every drop counts” and “some for all forever” were coined.
Debates on water became vibrant and water took the centre stage of the economy as it became abundantly clear that water was central to development. Without water we are nothing. The new act also made water a constitutional matter as it declared water a constitutional right for all.
What guarantee is there then that the country’s water programmes are sustainable? In 2002 the Department of Water Affairs wrote the first edition of National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS) which was hailed as a “blueprint” for survival. NWRS is a five-year policy framework that seeks to address the fair and equitable distribution of water for domestic consumption, industrial development and economic sustainability.
The department reviews the framework every five years to not only ensure sustainability, but also to keep up with the needs of socio-economic development.
The department is on the verge of passing the second edition of NWRS through Parliament, and this will ensure availability at least in the next five years.
Recently, the Minister of Water Affairs Edna Molewa announced drastic proposals in the review of water policies with a view to a fast-track equitable reallocation of water use. She warned that days of commercial farmers using excessive amounts of water for their crops were numbered. Emerging farmers must also get their fair share of water supply, as stipulated in the National Water Act.
In a move that is likely to shake established farmers, Molewa also announced an end to the existence of Irrigation Boards. The government had given them enough chance to transform themselves into democratic entities that accommodated emerging role players, to no avail. Instead they sought to entrench themselves into racial enclaves and continued to operate as the “old boys” club.
In terms of the new proposals the Regional Water Utilities will be empowered to ensure the supply of clean drinking water in their respective regions.
The department is working closely with municipalities to ensure the high standards of clean drinking water in their respective jurisdictions.
The best performing municipalities are recognised through the Blue Drop certification system. The Green Drop certification system ensures the best practices of waste water management practices among the municipalities.
The National Water Services Regulation Strategy (NWSRS 2012) sets clear objectives in terms of economic regulation in ensuring that services provided to customers by water services providers are appropriate, effective, efficient and sustainable, noting that in South Africa, water services are provided in a monopolistic environment.
It is against this background that the country will continue to be a preferred tourist destination for many years to come. September is a “Tourism Month” and the Department of Water Affairs will continue to support this noble initiative by the Department of Tourism by ensuring the availability at all times.
We urge all South Africans to inspire confidence among our visitors by refraining from using bottled water and to drink tap water.
* Themba Khumalo is the media liaison officer, Department of Water Affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.