South Africa’s water crisis will make our electricity problems look small: Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has published his weekly open letter to South Africa, focusing on the current water crisis facing the country.

He said that a decade-long drought has put immense pressure on our water systems and has had a devastating impact on agriculture and communities, especially in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga.

He added that dam levels are currently on average around 58%, compared to 69% for the same time last year.

“Our existing water systems are already over-exploited as usage increases rapidly due to population growth and as more homes get connected to water. Combine this with the worsening effects of climate change and we are clearly facing a dire situation,” he said.

“Unless we take drastic measures to conserve water sources and promote efficient use, water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country. Our current energy challenges will seem small by comparison.”

Budget changes and proposals

To help alleviate the drought, Ramaphosa said that government has provided R260 million in response to the drought.

He said that it has also offered support to farmers to purchase fodder, reticulate water for livestock and for dam desilting.

“Given the severity of the crisis, this amount is woefully inadequate. Disaster Management is working with provinces and municipalities to see how they can reprioritise their budgets for relief and recovery.

“In the long term, especially if the drought persists, we will also have to research technologies such as evaporation suppression, fog harvesting and cloud seeding.”

To ensure South Africa’s future water security, it will need funding of at least R126 billion for infrastructure, he said.

“With existing freshwater supplies dwindling, we will be focusing on projects that broaden our water resource mix. For example, Phase 1 of the uMkhomazi Water Project will prioritise the re-use of effluent, and projects like the Groot Letaba Water Augmentation Project in Limpopo and the Mzimvubu Water Project in the Eastern Cape will develop groundwater sources.

“We must manage our water sources wisely to meet the basic needs of communities and industry, as we drive social transformation so that we can achieve the South Africa we want.

“Unless we act now, we may not have water anywhere.”

Read: South Africa’s R900 billion plan to fight water shortages

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South Africa’s water crisis will make our electricity problems look small: Ramaphosa