Investing in a green recovery

By Terry van der Walt Time of article published Feb 12, 2021

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Bold steps are needed to ensure water security in a post-Covid-19 society and these steps need to be inclusive and green.

Through collaboration and fine-tuning of existing structures in the water sector, a green recovery in South Africa can be achieved.

This emerged from the 6th Annual Water Stewardship Event, convened online recently, which grappled with the issue of water provision.

More than 200 representatives from the water sector took part, including government officials, and people from industry, finance, civil society and development organisations.

The virtual event was jointly hosted by the National Business Initiative, the Strategic Water Partners Network, and the Royal Danish Embassy, and was supported by Germany’s development agency, Natural Resources Stewardship Programme.

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By embracing the power of partnerships between the private, public and civil society sectors South Africa could close the water gap by using a water stewardship approach, said Trevor Balzer, acting director-general of the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Balzer urged local and international investors to “come and invest in our water infrastructure which remains one of the most meaningful ways to create jobs, enable economic growth, reduce inequalities and support small, medium, and micro-enterprises”.

The Danish ambassador to South Africa Tobias Elling Rehfeld said South Africa could achieve water security through investments towards a green recovery.

“Water is the front line of our defence against Covid-19,” he said, adding that the pandemic offered opportunities to the private sector to participate in a green recovery.

In a panel discussion on governance, where it was emphasised that governance was the entire water sector, not just the government, Mike Muller, visiting adjunct professor at Wits School of Governance, asked why South Africa had not made greater progress in addressing water security.

“We need to pay attention to how we govern and manage our water. It is not about climate change, it is not about corruption, it is about weak leadership in government that allows corruption.”

Barbara Schreiner of the Water Integrity Network suggested we deal with corruption in the same way Ukraine has done, by encouraging public participation in the procurement processes.

A lack of accountability linked to the governance, management, and oversight of the sector itself, added to the challenges posed by Covid-19, delegates were told.

Martin Ginster, co-chair of the Strategic Water Partners Network, said strong systems and institutions were vital in driving effective water management and bringing water and sanitation to more citizens.

“As we look towards the future, good water governance will be needed to ensure an adequate supply of water at an acceptable quality to prevent and fight future pandemics.”

Rehfeld urged the water sector to ramp up investments to achieve the country’s water and sanitation goals, which would in turn contribute to economic recovery.

Alex McNamara, water and climate manager with the National Business Initiative, said investments should build water resilience and reduce future risks.

“Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of access to safe and reliable water, and we have a responsibility to learn from our experience over the past year to build back greener, stronger and better,” he said.

Steering SA towards water security

Water security is often described in futuristic terms – warnings we could all face scarcity or a lack of access to clean drinking water. The reality is that many municipalities, corporations and people are already experiencing some degree of water insecurity.

Lack of access to water and sanitation not only holds back economic growth, but also livelihoods for ordinary people.

Within the next decade, South Africa is expected to reach a 17% deficit between its water supply and demand.

To close this gap, we need to make difficult trade-offs between basic human and environmental needs and the needs of agriculture, key industrial activities such as mining and power generation, and growing urban centres.

By working together to identify shared solutions and implement strategies, policies, plans and programmes, much can be done.

Water stewardship is therefore becoming increasingly important for all our water sector players.

The concept of water stewardship refers to water use that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial.

Water stewardship activities include a focus on conserving, restoring and managing water resources in a sustainable manner through engaging all stakeholders. This includes the private sector, civil society and government-initiated action at catchment or site level.

The only way to ensure a balance between demand and supply of water will be for each sector, organisation and individual to make their contribution. All key stakeholders should work together. – Strategic Water Partners Network

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