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Will South Africa secure its water supply?

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Water management will be critical in South Africa over the next few years. Credit: Rainharvest.co.za

21 December 2020 – South Africa, like many other regions in Africa, is a water scarce country. With ageing infrastructure, the big question is whether South Africa will secure its water supply in the future?  

Although there are many challenges, experts feel that with new and improved technology and effective water management, South Africa will be able to secure its water supply in the future.

South Africa’s high water yield areas concentrate mostly along the Drakensberg as it moves south past the western border of Mozambique, through Kwazulu-Natal and thins out before it reaches the Eastern Cape. Then there is a smattering of additional areas along the mountains of the Western Cape.

This disproportionate spread of high catchment areas reveals why South Africa is an arid county. On paper, South Africa falls somewhere in the middle of the global pack. However, South Africa’s geography and variable climate make the country a water-scarce nation.

There are concerns compounding this status, such as ageing infrastructure and eutrophic dams. As urbanisation and industrialisation expand, South Africa will have to explore how to use water in smarter ways. Fortunately, this is very achievable, in no small way because of modern technology.

Technology is not the full answer. It is not the silver bullet to make sure everyone has enough to drink. Desalination, for instance, is considerably more expensive per generated litre than water from other sources. But it makes sense when combined with other approaches.

Technology can boost water prospects when used in strategic ways. New innovations such as Internet of Things devices, smart dashboards and remote management are opening new ways to improve water resources. Until recently, it had been tough to manage water at a nuanced level. But today it’s easier to predict demand, spot shortages, plug leaks and plan for future development.

Proper water management lies at the heart of meeting South Africa’s growing demand for the resource. The country is too water-scarce to meet future demand naturally, yet South African’s readily take water for granted. Water management instils a culture that can gives the country a more grounded approach, and it would be in the country’s interest to pursue this as one of its most serious priorities.

The question is what the country can do to improving its water management? The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) produced a paper on the topic, highlighting four elements to focus on:

  • Make markets work through adequate financial resources, provide incentives for efficient water use, and tackle any negative social impact stemming from pricing policies.
  • Promote coherent decision making with integrated ‘whole basin’ views.
  • Use technology to improve efficiency and water quality.
  • Work with other developing countries to support international water goals.

Technology and best practices gleaned from various markets can support all of these elements. There are many opportunities for quick wins. For example, reducing groundwater contamination by using ozone instead of more harmful chemicals when washing sites. There is also an abundance of current water-related data that can be analysed with modern analytics and artificial intelligence to create more mission-critical insights. And smartphones can play a role to help educate people on better water habits.

We can create a water-secure South Africa by improving how we manage water. Even situations that demand immediate attention, such as faltering infrastructure, can be addressed more quickly and effectively than any choices available in the past. The opportunities are there – let us use them!


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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management