Looming #water crisis may hinder #SouthAfrican development

Looming water crisis may hinder SA development.

Though not as visible a crisis as electricity provision, water supply is already impeding South Africa’s socio-economic development in some localities, stated a new report based on round table discussions convened by Business Leadership South Africa and the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE).

CDE executive director Ann Bernstein said that there were a number of water-related issues in South Africa that needed “urgent attention” to avoid a water crisis including: political leadership, strengthening water management institutions, maintenance of existing infrastructure, tackling the impacts of acid mine drainage (AMD) and minimising water waste.

The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) water services CEO Helgard Muller said that the department’s overall planning was in place, but that it still needed to make definite decisions, source funding, and establish the right institutions.

DWA’s strategies included a pricing strategy, a water for growth and development strategy, a national water resource strategy, and a turnaround plan from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Further, he noted that the department needed to improve its strategic leadership. “It is a serious problem in the water sector and we have seen a succession of director generals and other staff members.

“Also, discussions are needed around the number of catchment management agencies and the water resource management agencies required and what powers to delegate to the different institutions, so that they are able to assist in moving the water sector forward,” Muller said.

The report stated that South Africa had to immediately address the “serious” AMD problem, and that government and industry had to work together to minimise the impact of this threat to water quality, especially in Gauteng, and increasingly in Mpumalanga.

Chamber of Mines health and environment senior executive Nikisi Lesufi said that the chamber was ready to participate in any innovative approaches to the treatment of AMD.

However, he warned that a solution needed to be implemented soon and added that the DWA and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) had to sort out any technical problems and that a decision needed to be taken.

Further, Lesufi said that the DWA and the DMR had proposed regional closure strategies for adjacent mines that were unable to close on their own.

“The problem is that processing the average water licence takes about three-and-a-half years. This may lead to applicants losing interest, and the country getting a bad reputation in the international mining sector.”

Muller agreed that coordination between DWA and the DMR, especially on licenses and coordination among scientists needed to improve. “The department also acknowledges the backlog in issuing licenses, but our Mpumalanga regional offices are committed to sorting this out.”

Bernstein said that South Africa’s current problems, though related to the dryness of the country, and the history of unequal access to water and sanitation service, had also arisen because a “highly ambitious policy agenda had been pursued with scant regard for the vital role of skills and experience in water management, and the opportunity costs when they are lacking”.

“To improve the country’s outlook, urgent attention must be paid to putting in place the appropriate policies and institutional capabilities to deliver water services today without undermining the ability to do so tomorrow,” she concluded.

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