Water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu says that she has ‘sleepless nights’ about the current water shortages facing South Africa.
Speaking in an interview with BusinessDay, Sisulu said that her department’s R900 billion water master plan is currently the best option to address this crisis and provide water security for South Africa in the coming decade.
“An emergency and disaster (of this magnitude) can keep anybody awake because … you can’t plan it, you can’t put time frames to it, it’s just something that happens and you have to respond to it,” she said.
She added that critics of the plan did not understand it and the severity of the crisis facing the country.
“Anybody who has had a backlash on the master plan has not read it, they probably need to have an English dictionary,” she said.
“That master plan is the best you could ever have found anywhere. It took a lot of time. I mean, we are world-renowned for our knowledge in the industry. I’ve taken onboard, as my advisors, the best there is. There isn’t anybody out there who knows better about water than the people that I have in my team.”
‘Water crisis will make our electricity problems look small’
In a statement published in December 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa 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.
“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.”
South Africa gets on average 465 mm (18 inches) of rain a year, or about half the global average, and its water deficit is set to worsen with scientists forecasting further increases in average temperatures due to the greenhouse effect of unchecked carbon emissions.
More than one-third of available water is lost due to leaking pipes, ageing and broken infrastructure, vandalism and contamination.
Maintenance backlogs have been exacerbated due to funding shortfalls and a failure by municipalities and other users to pay for their supplies.
Ina December presentation, Sisulu said that the water master plan proposes a number of changes to deal with the country’s water shortages.
Some of the most notable proposals include:
- Implement drought operating rules;
- Institute borehole drilling and/or rehabilitation;
- Water tankering from available sources;
- Rainwater & fog harvesting;
- Protection and use of springs;
- Cloud seeding;
- Evaporation suppression;
- Desalination of brackish groundwater or seawater and;
- Effluent treatment and re-use, etc.
“We will use various technologies in combination with current strategies as we outlined in our master plan,” said Sisulu.
“We are working together with Rand Water and other specialist in providing new technologies that will help us in our quest to ensure the security of water supply.
“During the launch of the master plan at the CSIR in Pretoria, we saw various technologies, which we believe would play an important role in our drive to ensure that we provide uninterrupted water services to all.”
However, when it comes to short term interventions, restriction rules have proven to work best as it responds by reducing depletion of strained sources, she said.