New models needed to revitalise and modernise SA’s water sector

2nd February 2018 By: Dylan Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

Sustainable transformation in the South African water sector requires the introduction of new models and mechanisms for working relationships that will enhance the effective and efficient delivery of related water services to consumers, according to Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

She provided the opening remarks at the recent Water Infrastructure Investment Summit, held in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The transformation of the sector requires a new outlook by key role-players in terms of integrated water resource management. “Efforts to manage, protect and preserve water as a critical resource in a sustainable manner, speak to the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders in the water sector,” she said.

Mokonyane said the appropriate in-house measures could allow for a significant benefit in realising external opportunities to save water and use it more efficiently, while highlighting water security and management as the vital components of social and economic development.

“It is also imperative that the country thinks innovatively about new ways of making water available outside the traditional engineering solutions of supply-side infrastructure development.”

However, growing populations and economies, changing lifestyles and global climate change are increasing the pressure on the planet’s water resources, thereby threatening people and nature through a lack of responsible water management.

Simultaneously, freshwater resources in many regions were increasingly being threatened, but remained a shared resource critical to human health and driving the economy, Mokonyane pointed out, adding that “it is the basis of life itself and it is not produced”.

However, to fully understand and grasp the value of water, a proper economic impact analysis needed to be applied to appreciate how increasing investments in South Africa’s water infrastructure could have a positive impact on economic growth and employment, she added.

Mokonyane advocated that, in terms of general investment, a review of the projected capital needs of water, wastewater and stormwater utilities was required to determine the associated economic benefits that would be realised, in line with allocating large-scale investments.

“These benefits include the economic opportunities created by water infrastructure projects, the long-term productivity savings to the customers of water utilities, as well as the avoided costs of frequent disruptions in water and wastewater services to business.”

She also highlighted the fragility in supply and the economic impact resulting from water disruptions, pointing specifically to the water disruptions in late 2017 in the City of Johannesburg, especially in areas such Sandton and Bryanston, which had a “devastating” effect on business.

“Because many sectors rely on water, a disruption of water and wastewater services, even for a day, can cost business significant amounts of revenue and almost instantly shrink the annual national gross domestic product.”

She also pointed out the legacy of infrastructure issues, saying that many of the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure and systems had been in operation for five decades or longer.