Irrigate the future

To create jobs and stimulate growth, invest in water

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The 4th Annual Water Stewardship Conference showcased examples demonstrating that investing in South Africa’s water sector can create jobs, spur local economic development, and deliver a host of social benefits ranging from improved water quality to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Over 130 senior representatives from the water sector including officials from government, industry, finance, civil society and development organizations convened in Sandton, Johannesburg on 3 October for the event, hosted by GIZ/International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP), the National Business Initiative (NBI), the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), and the Royal Danish Embassy, to explore how best to leverage the full potential of investments in the water sector amid a severe, ongoing national water crisis, contracting economy, and R33 billion a year funding shortfall over the next ten years for the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP).

“Only by working together to tackle prioritised challenges can the water sector ensure that South Africa will indeed be ‘Ready for the Future and Ahead of the Curve’,” said Trevor Balzer, the Deputy Director General Department of Water and Sanitation, referencing the collaborative approach that was promoted by President Ramaphosa during the launch of the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Plan, which pursues, among other priorities, the reprioritisation of public spending to support job creation and investing in municipal social infrastructure improvement.

The event featured keynotes and case studies illustrating the economic opportunities that can be unlocked through strategic investment in the water sector.

A municipal-level case study of groundwater management schemes in Blouberg Local Municipality suggested that restructuring current expenditure to shift spending away from an overreliance on capital outlays and into operation and maintenance of existing groundwater schemes can act as a catalyst for local economic development.

“The starting point is how can we make existing resources go further? Between us, as local and international public and private sector, national government, and local partners, we have the capacity to make this happen,” said Jørgen Erik Larsen, Counsellor for Water, Energy, Research and Innovation at the Royal Danish Embassy. “We need to invest more in operations and maintenance with a 'fix it first' approach.”

A second case study focused the economic and social benefits of reducing non-revenue water (NRW), namely water that is pumped and then lost or unaccounted for, through project approaches that engage public, private, and civil society partners which can enable resource-constrained municipalities to access the financing, capacity and equipment that they lack.

Martin Ginster, Sasol’s Head of Environment: Water, Waste, Land, and Biodiversity and member of the SWPN leadership said: “Already we are seeing that the public and private sectors in South Africa are trailblazers in developing the type of non-traditional and trust-based partnerships required to sustainably address our water challenges. We remain committed to working with all stakeholders to achieve a water-secure future for the country.”

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