Goodbye clean drinking water – countdown to crisis in South Africa

 ·8 Dec 2023

Experts warn that the shocking rate at which the water quality of South Africa’s drinking water has deteriorated over the past decade will get worse – and if something isn’t done about it soon, the country could face having no drinkable water within five to ten years.

On Tuesday, the Department of Water and Sanitation published the full Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop Water reports for 2023, revealing a dire state of affairs when it comes to safe and clean drinking water in the country.

The headline figure in the Blue Drop report – which contains a comprehensive assessment of all 958 water supply systems (WSS) in each of the 144 water service authorities (WSA) in the country – is that almost half the water supplies in South Africa fall below the 50% compliance score, and almost a third of these systems are in critical condition.

In terms of water quality, 46% of water supply systems exhibit poor or bad microbiological water quality compliance – a massive deterioration from 5% in 2014.

Alarmingly, of the 958 water systems, only 26 water supply systems scored more than 95% and qualified for the prestigious Blue Drop Certification.

The reports further highlighted that 67.6% of wastewater treatment works are failing, and 47.4% of our water is lost or unaccounted for.

Speaking to BizNews, Dr Ferrial Adam, the Executive Manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse), noted that this is a full-on crisis that threatens to wideout drinkable water in South Africa within the next decade, or even sooner.

“We [South Africa] can see that the ten years of not reporting on the quality of our water has come back to haunt us and is the reason it’s in such a bad state,” Adam said.

The pace at which South Africa’s water quality has deteriorated indicates that South Africa could be without drinkable water within 10 years. However, Adam believes it’ll be even sooner.

“This is a full-on crisis. We need to work with urgency,” she added.

“If we carry on at the current rate of determination… I don’t even think we’ll have to wait for ten years. I think it will be about five years because once you reach a particular point, a tipping point, it’s just downhill from there, and it’s at a much faster rate,” she said.

Adams said South Africa needs to address the factors impacting and accelerating the rate of deterioration, which include a gross lack of infrastructure maintenance, the need for skilled people in the right positions for waster water and purification treatment, and to tackle systematic corruption and mismanagement in government.

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