Water security, a significant risk that could worsen in the next ten years, often does not receive as much public attention as the energy security issues in South Africa. However, neglecting the challenges faced by the country’s water infrastructure can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

By Staff Reporter

International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided clear findings that indicate an increase in climate-induced changes in water cycles and drought across Southern Africa in the coming years.

It is worth noting that South Africa is one of the driest countries globally, ranking 29th out of 193 countries surveyed by the IPCC. The average annual rainfall in South Africa is approximately 50% of the world average.

Moreover, since 2015, South Africa has been experiencing record-low levels of annual rainfall and rising temperatures. According to IPCC models, by 2050, South Africa is projected to face a threefold increase in climate variability.

Additionally, the risk of decreased precipitation in the country is three to four times higher than the risk of increased precipitation. Given this context, it is of utmost importance that water security risks are mitigated to prevent potential disasters.

The governance of the country’s water systems is inadequate, exacerbating the challenges posed by climate change. The lack of maintenance of ageing infrastructure has led to significant water losses, and there is a lack of investment in addressing these issues.

These factors, combined with a decrease in rainfall in recent years, have resulted in severe water crises. According to Earth.Org, approximately 70 million litres of treated clean drinking water are lost daily due to extensive leaks in the country’s water piping system.

In the case of eThekwini Metro, approximately 58% of the water acquired by the municipality is classified as non-revenue water, leading to an annual loss of R2 billion.

Professor Faizal Bux, the director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology at the Durban University of Technology, expressed his concern about the eThekwini metro’s non-revenue water losses. He stated that these losses, which exceed 50%, are unacceptable. This means that more than half of the water purchased from the Umngeni Tugela bulk water supplier is being lost.

However, civil society is progressively undertaking measures to tackle these water-related issues. For example, the establishment of the Water Crisis Committee was a response to the extensive leaks in the water piping system. This committee has successfully repaired over 9 700 leaks and has also advocated for a more proactive government approach to tackling this issue.

Gauteng has been facing challenges with water provision in various municipalities over the past few months, resulting in prolonged periods of water scarcity where taps have remained dry for weeks and, in some cases, even months. This persistent issue has placed significant burdens on both residents and businesses within the affected areas.

Despite the absence of a definitive resolution to the water crisis, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, David Mahlobo, a visit to the Ekhureleni metro in late September. During this visit, Mahlobo promised that the national government intends to offer additional assistance to the municipalities affected by the crisis.

“The issue of water disruptions that go for several days in the province has reached a level that is untenable and as national government we’ve decided to support these municipalities to say: one, Rand Water must be able to give them more water and which, we are very pleased that in Ekurhuleni an additional 210 megalitres has been made available,” said Mahlobo.

At the beginning of October, Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, issued a directive to water services officials, including Rand Water, to initiate water-shifting measures in the Gauteng province. This decision was made following Mchunu’s meetings with community members in various parts of Gauteng, where a persistent water crisis has resulted in numerous challenges related to water supply.

After engaging in a consultation with multiple stakeholders, Mchunu asserted that there was unanimous support for the implementation of water shifting as an interim solution, rather than resorting to water cuts or ‘water shedding’.

Rand Water’s Makenosi Maroo stated that, following the Minister’s directive, they will be utilizing water shifting as a strategic approach to effectively manage and balance their systems.

“In line with the Minister’s directive, Rand Water is implementing water shifting as a management tool to balance its systems. Simply put, water shifting means moving or shifting water from one system to another to ensure a balanced and equitable supply of water to municipal customers and residents,” Maroo told 702.

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