As SA faces a water-scarce future, business must take up the challenge of water stewardship
By: Phillipine Mtikitiki
Situated near the southern parts of Drakensberg, the picturesque village of Matatiele lies 70 kilometres from Kokstad, near the junction of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and southern Lesotho borders. Broadly translated, Matatiele means “the ducks have flown” in Sotho – a reference to the once water-abundant wetlands and marshes of this area that were home to many wild birds.
Matatiele is symptomatic of a much broader problem in South Africa, with water scarcity reaching alarming levels across our major water catchment basins as climate change begins to have real impact and remote communities feel its far-reaching effects.
With the country expected to reach water scarcity by 2025, accelerating to a 17% gap between water supply and demand by 2030, based on current usage, new solutions need to be found.
For business, a focus on improving water efficiency in manufacturing processes and along supply chains is important for protecting this valuable resource, but more needs to be done beyond the “fenceline” too.
There is increasing recognition that partnerships between government, the private sector, NGOs and communities are needed to improve reliable access to safe water and to protect water resources in a world affected by climate change. Adopting a water stewardship approach challenges business to take up the role of water steward, going beyond water efficiency practices to lead collective action to the water crisis in nature and beyond.
Through the Replenish Africa Initiative (Rain), The Coca‑Cola Foundation (TCCF) is working with various NGOs to replenish water into nature in key watersheds by clearing alien invasive plants. These consume millions of litres of water each year, resulting in water shortages and permanent loss to an already stressed water system.
Rain has worked with partners such as The Nature Conservancy, World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa (WWF-SA), Living Lands and the Endangered Wildlife Trust to clear 3 400 hectares in South Africa’s priority catchment areas, helping to replenish over an estimated 15 billion litres of water into nature over the next decade. The programme also provided employment and skills training for 389 women and young people in rural areas of South Africa.
In the Soutpansberg, for example, in South Africa’s northern mountain range in the Vhembe District of Limpopo, where Rain partnered with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to clear 32ha of alien invasive plants, the first trickles of water are appearing in the dusty soil, a promising sign of the potential recovery of this pristine, once-lush wetland. In the Nchodu wetland near the Matatiele Reserve, the landscape is already being transformed. Areas cleared of black wattle are rapidly showing evidence of water being restored in the area.
These investments in “ecological infrastructure” are designed to address issues of water security upstream in watersheds, in cost-effective and locally appropriate ways.
While South Africa still relies largely on surface water for its water needs, ageing infrastructure, climate volatility, drought and rising water pollution have also motivated government to look to alternative sources, including reusing and recycling grey water, rainwater harvesting and groundwater as part of its long-term water resource plan.
With this in mind, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa’s is rolling out off-grid, solar-powered groundwater harvesting and treatment plants to provide drought-stricken communities with safe water. The Coke Ville Groundwater Harvesting Project provides access to water in water-scarce, remote communities with limited economic opportunities. The infrastructure can be developed fairly quickly and cost effectively at a local level, reducing the strain on limited surface water resources.
With a project already up and running in Tshikota, Limpopo, five additional community access projects are planned for deployment across Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape. The target is to deliver over 60 million litres a year by the end of 2021.
There is also opportunity for business to address the immediate impacts of water shortages in communities. With widespread droughts already beginning to take a toll in water-stressed regions in the Northern and Western Cape, for example, relief water plays an important part in humanitarian operations, providing a literal lifeline for communities.
The private sector has stepped up, and since the beginning of the year, Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages (CCPB) has been working with local municipalities in leading relief water operations to assist affected communities. To date, CCPB has delivered over 3 million litres of water using the tankers it invested in during the drought crisis to assist communities as well as providing specially produced Relief Water in 1-litre bottles.
By adopting such a partnership approach in their water stewardship strategies, business can work with other key role-players to ensure that they build a more resilient South Africa as we face an increasingly water-scarce future.
Phillipine Mtikitiki is vice-president of the South Africa Franchise at Coca-Cola Africa.
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.
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