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Skills, collaboration needed to overcome growing water challenges

Capacity development and closer collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders will be necessary if South Africa is to halt its declining water security challenge. This is according to industry experts and advisors to the IFAT Africa trade show and forum, who were speaking to mark South Africa’s National Water Week 2021, from 15 to 22 March.

Benoît Le Roy, Environmental, Technology & Project Alchemist, Founding Member of the South African Water Chamber NPC and Advisory Board Member of IFAT Africa, says South Africa’s water security has been declining year on year. Recent moves by community groups to legally challenge local water authorities and take the management of water and wastewater into their own hands are indicative of the levels of frustration emerging, he says.

“Unfortunately, some of the recent successes by community groups will offer only temporary relief,” he says. The challenges are complex and multidimensional. We have a Master Plan to attempt to address them, but no progress has been made in implementing it. Water supply and management problems are a symptom of ineffective municipalities, and there are now around 110 of those currently being reported, compared with 60 a year ago.”

Le Roy says urgent moves need to be made to decentralise water infrastructure management; to upskill and capacitate local government to be able to implement water security measures; and address the nation’s high level of 42% unaccounted-for water. “Unaccounted-for water is mostly due to leaks – so we are losing a lot of water in the system and we have too many inefficiencies. In some towns, this level is as high as 60%. The country also needs to drive efficiencies in our supply systems, price water properly, and embark on more desalination and water reuse projects,” he says.

Suzette Scheepers, CEO of IFAT Africa presenters Messe Muenchen South Africa says: “With up to three billion people worldwide still lacking basic handwashing facilities and the UN warning that the world could face a 40% water supply shortfall by 2030, Africa is particularly hard hit. It has been reported that Sub-Saharan Africa currently loses an estimated 5% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) due to insufficient access to clean drinking water and sanitation, and 40 billion hours of otherwise productive time annually, collecting water.”

The recent UN Water SDG 6 Summary Progress Update 2021 has noted that work had to be accelerated if SDG 6 – to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 – is to be achieved. Among the factors highlighted in the report to accelerate progress were capacity development, innovation and governance, with cross-sector and transboundary collaboration, clear roles, stakeholder involvement and effective and inclusive institutions.

Says Scheepers: “IFAT Africa strives to underpin SDG6 progress by presenting a unique platform for engagement among stakeholders from across the continent. Through knowledge sharing and exposure to new technologies and strategies, key water sector decision makers are capacitated to move forward in assuring water security.”