Tshwane Economic Development Agency chairperson Nils Flaatten, Francis Gibbons of Royal HaskoningDHV, chief executive of the National Water Commission Desingen Naidoo and Tshepo Ntsimane of the Development Bank of Southern Africa during a panel discussion on water in Centurion.
EXPERTS have warned about the strong possibility of a water price increase, partly due to a lack of investment in infrastructure.

Massive losses of water because of pipe leaks, mismanagement of budgets for infrastructure and lack of education about water usage have been cited among reasons likely to contribute to the high cost of water.

Water engineer Francis Gibbons, from engineering consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, said South Africa had reached the end of the road on easy water supply.

“We are now at the end of the cheap water, and everything we are going to do now is going to be expensive,” he said.

Gibbons was speaking during the annual meeting hosted by the Tshwane Economic Development Agency and the Southern African Netherlands Chamber of Commerce.

While he concurred with other speakers that the exorbitant pricing of water was inevitable, he said that such a decision was likely to become problematic in the light of the government’s goal to achieve universal access of the commodity for its people.

He called on different stakeholders to embark on a drive to educate people about the importance of water to mitigate its imminent expensive costs.

“Are our people going to be able to make that mindset change that water is going to become more expensive in the future? Are we going to be able to convey that value to them and to change their mindset?” he asked.

He suggested that people must stop wasting water and become efficient in their use of water.

“We must start introducing water reuse - this is mainly a solution for our coastal cities.”

Tshepo Ntsimane, economist at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, said in many countries water pricing was difficult because access to it was treated by people as a right.

“Water is cheap because of the ‘right’ thing. We are not pricing it properly. We don’t have economic tariffs that reflect the true cost of producing that water.”

Ntsimane said that a lack of investments into water infrastructure could contribute to the high cost of water. According to him, water leaks were a symptom that infrastructure was built for fewer people than it could currently sustain.

Ntsimane said the responsibility to invest in infrastructure must be carried out by municipalities.

“The long and short of it is, if we don’t reinvest in that infrastructure and find a way to collectively price it properly, we are not going to be able to reinvest, and a very serious problem will become even more expensive,” Ntsimane said.

Nils Flaatten, chairperson of Tshwane Economic Development Agency, likened the imminent high cost of water to power outages experienced in the country 10 years ago.

“We had this discussion in South Africa 10 years ago, about electricity. We were sitting on a panel that said electricity is too cheap, and is going to get expensive. We didn’t listen. Suddenly we went into outages.

“The difference between not having water and electricity is that it becomes extremely uncomfortable when water is cut off.

“People can handle four hours without electricity and they improvise, but without water it is very different,” he said.

Flaatten said there was a need to start campaigns to make people aware of water problems.

“People have to know that they are going to be under a lot of pressure. We need a national campaign that would start to prepare our people for a very uncomfortable debate that water is too cheap,” he said.