Water shortage looming in Gauteng. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 23/09/2014

Residents in tracts of this province are staring at further water shortages in two years if rainfall trends continue and nothing is done to augment supplies.

This was the warning sounded at the launch of National Water Week at Hazelmere Dam, itself in a dire situation recently which triggered water restrictions on the North Coast, and now at less than half capacity.

Our all-important uMngeni system is just making do. Shortages lie ahead, until treated effluent comes on tap in 2019, and desalinated seawater further supplements supply in 2023.

South Africa is no stranger to water scarcity, but our situation is urgent. More than half the country’s river ecosystems are also endangered.

This increased the jolt of a report to the eThekwini metro on Tuesday that greater Durban was losing 237 000 000 litres of water a day, mainly because of ageing pipes. This means more than R600 million a year is pouring into the ground – a huge loss of a precious resource that inevitably ends up on ratepayers’ bills.

About 35.5 percent of the water piped to Durban does not reach the taps. This is an astonishing waste, but does not compare badly: the South African percentage of non-revenue water, as it is known, is 36.8. The world average is 36.2.

Citing these figures, the metro’s head of water and sanitation, Ednick Msweli, was making the case for R300m annually over five years to fix the ailing infrastructure.

The leak volume alone makes a compelling argument. It is a big commitment, but this country is at present wrestling with a power crisis caused by a failure to maintain and expand our electricity generation capacity.

So councillor Fawzia Peer’s approach – give them what they need – was right. We should stipulate oversight and controls, but not deny the request. On a dry continent, and in a country and province that is well acquainted with drought, we cannot afford to waste a drop.