Pretoria - Understanding issues around water security in South Africa was central to a National Press Club/GCIS media briefing.
Coming on the back of the annual Water Research Commission symposium, speakers from the sector outlined some of the innovative work being done, and what more needs to be done especially in terms of the way the country thinks about a sustainable waste water ecosystem.
During the symposium, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu had highlighted the importance of “water as life” and “sanitation as dignity”.
In his opening remarks in the webinar, Dr Henry Roman, director, Environmental Services and Technology of the Department of Science and Innovation, said SA was about the 30th driest country in the world with an annual rainfall well below the global average. Strategic water source areas occupy only 10% of the land mass and 44% of waste water treatment works were non-functional, with annual water losses amounting to close on R10 billion.
He emphasised the importance of the circular economy to tackle local issues of sustainable water, energy and food security, as well as global issues such as climate change.
Leonardo Manus of the Department of Water and Sanitation explained the link between water and sanitation, and the importance of the Green Drop audit process which monitors water authorities’ and municipalities’ ability to provide acceptable services.
He said about 23% of households in South Africa don’t have access to sanitation services above RDP levels, a situation aggravated by water interruptions with water supply assurance only at 65%. Another concern was an undisclosed amount of spillage; a problem caused by the lack of maintenance of municipal services.
“All ordinary South Africans want is a toilet that works, a toilet that gives them dignity, a toilet that is safe to use and will look after their health and hygiene,” he said.
But he questioned whether the flush toilet – where we flush away clean drinking water at a time when there is no assurance about water supply security – was putting convenience ahead of sense.
Valerie Naidoo, executive manager of the Water Research Commission, said that in addition to the direct challenges of water supply, access and quality, there were the global challenges of climate change – droughts, floods, temperatures or rising sea levels which would all affect South Africa.
She spoke about the challenges of urbanisation and unplanned residential zones, and the complexities of the type of infrastructure needed to bring resilience to the water and sanitation system at a time when the financial base to provide such services had not grown exponentially.
“We have to rethink water and sanitation and be innovative, not only around technology but our approaches and processes,” she said, calling for a paradigm shift in achieving access, reallocating resources to ensure that communities were not only provided with the services they needed but became more resilient in future.
The SA Local Government Association (Salga) was working with 120 municipalities and other partners such as the commission to find solutions to the problems of local government, its head of technology and innovation, William Moroka, said.
It had been disheartening to discover some municipalities had applied inappropriate technologies, he said, but Salga was putting a lot of interventions in key support areas including water engineer skills training and knowledge exchange of proven technologies, research and development of emerging technologies, the use of data management and scientific intelligence, among others.