World Water Day: Examining the limitations of freshwater availability

Thapelo Mongala, junior lecturer and PhD candidate at the Centre for Water Sciences and Management.

Thapelo Mongala, junior lecturer and PhD candidate at the Centre for Water Sciences and Management.

Published Mar 20, 2023


South Africa is in the middle of a water crisis, one that has the potential to impact the lives of the entire nation. With water shortages becoming an ever-growing problem, it is critical that the country comes together to understand and address the underlying causes of this crisis. The multifaceted nature of the water crisis in South Africa needs to be explored, from ageing infrastructure to the effects of climate change. This will enable us to create innovative solutions to ensure the future of our country and its people.

One of the biggest challenges South Africa faces is its ageing water infrastructure. It’s an ongoing issue that is only getting worse. Decades of mismanagement, corruption and lack of maintenance have resulted in significant water losses, reduced access to clean water, and an ever-growing population that is straining the already limited water supply. It is clear that urgent action needs to be taken to repair and expand water infrastructure in order to meet the needs of a growing population and ensure access to clean water.

Due to the diversity of the country’s climate and ecosystems, our freshwater sources come with inherent limitations. The vast difference in rainfall between the east and the west of the country has led to water scarcity in many areas. Climate change has only amplified this problem with an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts. This has had a huge impact on industries such as agriculture, which is a major source of employment and food security.

Pollution poses another threat to surface water and groundwater. Through contaminants discharged from industrial and agricultural activities as well as poor waste management practices, freshwater water sources become unsuitable for consumption.

As we observe and celebrate World Water Day on March 22, 2023, let us take the opportunity to consider and address how we can deal with these issues. Following this year’s theme: “Be the change you want to see in the world”, let us take individual and collective action to deal with the local and global water crises we are facing.

There are several actions citizens can take on a local level to make a difference. Individually, let us be more conservative and aware of our water use in our homes and communities. We should fix leaks as soon as they are identified in the household to reduce water losses. If we use on-site sanitation, we should empty full septic tanks before they spill over and contaminate surface water and groundwater sources. We should also educate ourselves on how climate change will alter our water sources currently and moving forward.

Collectively, let us hold those in authority accountable for the decisions they make regarding our water resources. Report leakages to ward councillors and local officials and see to it that they are doing what they are mandated to do. Take part in the cleaning of water sources such as rivers, lakes and wetlands and prevent them from being polluted. Build social and political pressure; if there are water related by-laws and policies tabled, make your voices heard by giving inputs and comments to these documents. Similarly, municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Water Services Development Plans (WSDPS) outline what provisions should be made regarding water infrastructure and services. It is important that citizens familiarise themselves with these documents and contribute to their development and implementation.

We all have a part to play in solving the water crisis. Let us all make an effort to do so, individually and collectively.

Biography: Thapelo Mongala is a junior lecturer and PhD candidate at the Centre for Water Sciences and Management. He has previously worked at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) in the Local Government Support directorate. Mongala serves as the Young Professionals Portfolio Representative of the Ground Water Division (GWD). He also serves as the North-West Lead of the Young Water Professionals, an empowerment platform of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA).