Cape Town turns to private sector to fund new water supplies

While it is no longer a question of “if” but rather “when” Cape Town is set to run out of water, there are still a number of questions around who exactly will be footing the bill for new infrastructure and water supplies.

Writing in a column for the Daily Maverick, Western Cape premier Helen Zille said that national government has remained firm in its refusal to pay for a number of upgrades to Cape Town’s water supply, and has instead insisted that Cape Town will only avoid Day Zero by saving more water.

“Even though this is an unforeseeable once-in-400-year drought, the national department will not make extra money available to augment the provision of bulk water supply, which is its constitutional mandate,” said Zille.

This has been further complicated by residents’ angry refusal to pay a proposed “water levy”, and a water budget which has already been slashed by the recession and the drop in projected tax revenue, she said.

As a result of this, Zille predicts that a lengthy court battle is set to take place as the Western Cape government is set to institute legal steps to recover the money from the national department, for what we will have to spend to avert this crisis in the short term.

However, she cautioned that the outcome of this case was likely to be found long after Cape Town had run dry.

Private partnerships 

With no other alternatives, Zille said she was increasingly looking at partnerships with the private sector as a means of coping with Day Zero.

She said that she has met with a number of water entrepreneurs this week, together with officials and independent experts, to hear some of their ideas for augmenting, packaging and distributing emergency (and long-term) water supplies.

“Over the course of two days, I saw once again what a powerful entrepreneurial spirit we have in South Africa. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunities our entrepreneurs create,” she said.

As a result of these meetings, Zilles said that she firmly believes that the answers to Cape Town’s water crisis could be found in collaboration with the business sector.

However, she warned that national government may once again serve as a road block to the deals, over concerns that the Western Cape is commoditising water.

“One of the upsides of a disaster declaration is that I can now bring our approach to bear on trying to solve the problem, in the interests of consumers,” Zille said.

“The months ahead will determine whether it will be possible in the short time available. But, having tried to grasp the realities of the present situation, there really is no alternative.”

You can read the full Daily Maverick column here.

Read: Is day zero the beginning of the end for Cape Town property?

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Cape Town turns to private sector to fund new water supplies