PRETORIA - The current water scarcity crisis bedevilling South Africa, particularly the City of Cape Town, proves that the direct and vital link between water availability and economic development had not been fully appreciated by authorities in the country.
Addressing the National Press Club in Pretoria, Fred Platt, CEO of JSE listed Accentuate, said adequate planning would have been made had authorities in South Africa viewed water as the ultimate enabler.
"If you take water out of a situation, and that's what we are seeing in Cape Town, we are seeing the risk of development just coming to a total standstill. People talk about day zero approaching ... the reality of the matter is that Day Zero has been building up in Cape Town and in many other cities in this country and inhibiting development for a very long time," Platt said.
"The cost of not having water far outweighs the cost of providing sustainable water. When we look at water as a resource, we also need to understand that water is not a commodity that you take and use, and dispose. Water merely moves from one state to the next, and you are merely a custodian of water for a period of time."
He said before even considering processes like desalination of seawater, the populace needs to understand that the available water resources need to managed better, including the reuse of water.
"You don't need to start off by looking at how much desalination capacity you need. In fact, you need to first look at how you manage your existing infrastructure, the second phase is how you effectively use and reuse your water. Only when you get to that stage, then you say 'how do we supplement water', and 'how do we create water enough to enable economic development'," said Platt.
"The debate on water also needs to go a lot further than Cape Town. Many communities in this country face the challenge of day zero every day. That is something we need to address. What we are calling for at the end of the day is a different look at water. It's not a technology-driven solution. It needs political will to understand the value of water, to put water within that context, then to apply whatever technology is available to the best benefit of the community," added Platt.
"When we look at water, it needs to be a national asset. It is the responsibility of our government, as the custodian of that water, but in the treatment of water there is a lot of opportunity for private business to play. The infrastructure, and the delivery of water again, becomes a critical government responsibility."
This week, Cape Town announced that it has managed to reduce its collective daily consumption of water to 547 million litres, still 97 million litres more than the Level 6b restrictions target of 450 million litres, but enough to stave off the dreaded Day Zero until May.
Day Zero is when most of the taps in the city would be shut off in a bid to conserve the bare minimum amount of water in the Mother City's dwindling supply dams.
Day Zero has now been moved further back to mid-May 2018.
Prior to the announcement by the City of Cape Town, there were just 71 days remaining on the Day Zero countdown.
Co-panelist at the National Press Club briefing, Dr Anthony Turton, a scientist specialising in water resource management, said the current water crisis in South Africa is tantamount to "the Titanic striking the iceberg".
"In my professional opinion, what we are seeing playing out in front of us today is that the Titanic has struck the iceberg. But the Titanic is still floating. Day Zero is the iceberg. The absolute inevitable outcome of this is that the Titanic will sink. There is no question or doubt about it. So we have to talk straight to each other, and we have to be serious about this matter now. We are in a crisis situation," said Turton.
He said there is "a policy absurdity in South Africa where for some unexplained reason private citizens pay a higher tariff for water than bulk users". He said under the current regime, individuals pay more for a unit of water than bulk water users like hotels and factories.
"That is absurd. What it does is, it creates incredible pressure that you see in Cape Town now where individual people are being squeezed to the bone, so hard that there is now a political backlash against their political masters. The reality is that an individual person can actually do very little, other than just use less water. The truth is that a hotel with 600 beds can now do something very different. But that hotel pays less for a unit of water than for the individual. That's the policy absurdity," said Turton.
- African News Agency (ANA)