WATER

Holding (on to) water

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South Africa is a water-scarce country with a highly variable climate and one of the lowest run-offs in the world. It shares its rivers with neighbouring countries and is dependent on the small Kingdom of Lesotho to keep the water supply to the economic powerhouse of the region, Gauteng Province, flowing. The drivers of the South African economy, namely agriculture, mining and infrastructure, are all water-intensive operations. Water is therefore a key influencer of South Africa’s economic outlook. 

According to Dr Nicole Kranz, Country Co-ordinator South Africa: International Water Stewardship Programme (IWDP), The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), SA, who addressed the water track at the recent African Utility Week (AUW) in May (on ‘The triple bottom line of water loss reduction: economic, environmental and social gains’ and ‘Partnering for water stewardship---new solutions through collective action’), South Africa’s non-revenue water losses is costing approximately R7-billion a year. ”

“Over the past two decades, the South African government focused its time and resources on addressing the water and sanitation backlog. While it made significant progress in this regard, infrastructure has not been maintained properly and is now causing serious problems at particularly a municipal level.

“Non-revenue water losses are costing approximately R7 billion a year. A country that is naturally water scarce and that is currently experiencing its worst drought in 20 years cannot afford to lose millions of litres of treated potable water through leakages. Government has put a lot of emphasis on solving this problem and private sector is keen to get involved where they can,” she said.

Dr Kranz, who is involved in five multi-stakeholder partnerships in South Africa since 2014, highlights that, further to the loss of potable water due to failing infrastructure, many of South Africa’s wastewater treatment plants are also failing or exceeding its treatment capacity. This is a challenge for the municipality, communities and businesses alike as overflows are polluting natural water resources and companies cannot expand operations in areas where there is not capacity for their wastewater treatment.

“A water challenge that has dominated the news for the last five years in particular is acid mine drainage. The problem in the Witwatersrand basin is a result of mines that closed a long time ago and the owners of these mines having left the country or the companies have dissolved. This leaves the government and mines currently operating in the country to find ways to deal with the crisis, and ways to fund such initiatives. Urgent work is needed to prevent the same situation from happening in the Olifants River basin, in the coal mining region of Mpumalanga.

“Underlying many of these problems is a lack of technical skills in government, particularly at the municipal level. Government cannot adequately address the challenges without having engineers and artisans who are sufficiently qualified. Many programmes are in place to train young people to fill these employment gaps, but some work is needed to ensure municipalities have the financial and management capacity to employ these trained youths once they qualify, and to retain them in their workforce,” according to her.

Looking at the challenges associated with proper water management, Dr Kranz holds the opinion that African countries share some of these challenges. A backlog in water and sanitation infrastructure and a lack of education in many areas lead to polluted natural water courses which reduce the amount of drinking water available and pose significant health risks to communities living around these water courses. Furthermore, many African countries do not have the necessary laws, policies and planning strategies in place to manage water allocation. This, she says leads to seasonal droughts at the expense of communities and businesses. “Supporting African governments to get this legislation in place, and to enforce it, is a priority.”

Regarding AUW 2016, she says she most looked forward to engaging and collaborating with businesses, governments and civil society on developing joint solutions to manage water-related risks---and she was not disappointed. Addressing her topic at AUW, ‘The triple bottom line of water loss reduction: economic, environmental and social gains she reflected on the lessons learned through a water-loss reduction project that was implemented between 2012 and 2014 by GIZ, Sasol and the Emfuleni Local Municipality. The Metsimaholo project seeks to replicate and build on this Emfuleni partnership. Dr Kranz very importantly outlined how a partnership such as this has the potential to:

  • save a municipality a significant amount of money through reduced demand (such as less bulk water purchases from Rand Water);
  • improve living conditions for communities by reducing leakages and pollution (education); and
  • reduce the water risk for companies and all water users in the catchment.

The International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP) is an international water security programme that combines global best practices in water stewardship with local knowledge. Currently active in seven countries, Dr Kranz says the six-year programme (from 2013 to 2018) facilitates partnerships between the public sector, the private sector and civil society to address shared water risks, while improving stakeholders’ use and management of water and building their capacity to develop their own solutions.

“GIZ GmbH manages IWaSP on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). In Africa, IWaSP is implementing projects in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania. It also recently started projects in the Caribbean states of Grenada and St Lucia.”

IWaSP’s five SA multi-stakeholder partnerships include:

  1. Support to the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN): The Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), established in 2011, is a co-ordination platform between the South African private sector, Government and civil society organisations to jointly find solutions for the country’s most threatening water issues.  With IWaSP’s financial and technical support, the SWPN has grown into a well-functioning organisation into which the private sector has invested over €100 000 in 2015 alone. This platform is being studied by various organisations to serve as a model for the establishment of similar bodies in other African countries.
  2. Improving water balance in the Southern Cape hops-growing region: IWaSP entered into a partnership with South African Breweries (SAB), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Department of Environmental Affairs to improve the water balance around the George and Oudtshoorn areas in the Southern Cape. SAB sources its hops---a water-intensive crop---from this water-stressed area. Invasive trees in mountainous and riparian areas, unmonitored groundwater use and lack of co-ordination in the catchment are the main project interventions.
  3. Securing Port Elizabeth’s water through landscape restoration and water stewardship: Santam, one of the largest agricultural insurance providers in South Africa, entered into a partnership with IWaSP and the NGOs Living Lands and Commonland to assess and address risks in the catchments feeding into the city of Port Elizabeth. Through landscape restoration and establishment of alternative farming practices, water flow into downstream dams will be improved. Support to municipalities on resilience thinking will help ensure better management of the available resources.
  4. Water stewardship in the Upper Breede River Catchment in the Western Cape Province: UK-based retailer Marks and Spencer sources a large proportion of its deciduous fruit from the area around Ceres in the Western Cape Province. This being a water-scarce area, the retailer entered a partnership with IWaSP, WWF, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency and local retailer Woolworths to find solutions to reduce the shared water risks in the catchment. This partnership is testing the new AWS Standard on farm-level to guide farmers on improving on-farm efficiency and quality, as well as catchment participation. Local communities are also empowered through a community-driven environmental education programme to reduce pollution entering the river.
  5. Water-loss reduction in Metsimaholo Local Municipality: The newest IWaSP partnership in South Africa is with Sasol, the Department of Water and Sanitation and the Metsimaholo Local Municipality (Sasolburg). Sasol is highly dependent on the over-allocated, water-stressed Vaal River System for its operations. Sasol has spent many years getting its operations as water-efficient as possible, but it is still at risk due to outside factors impacting on the Vaal River---one being water losses at the municipal level. The partnership will start with establishing a baseline for the municipality’s water use. Thereafter leakages will be fixed and communities educated on water-wise behaviour. The savings incurred will be re-invested into the project to keep the water savings growing.

“It has been encouraging to see how diverse organisations from all sectors have been coming together to address issues around water. Private sector, government and civil society are increasingly seeing water as a shared risk and acknowledging that individual action will not solve the problems. It has been surprising to see the extent to which private sector in particular has gained interest in water stewardship and collective action---a regional water stewardship conference IWaSP co-hosted last year attracted over 200 participants (34% private sector representation), which was a much higher interest than we anticipated,” she concluded.

Annemarie Roodbol

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