Cape Town - Government is pinning hope on its ability to plug
leaking pipes, reduce pollution and "stretch" resources to stave off
a looming fresh water crisis.
"We don't want development to be held back by a lack of
water, or lack of access to water," water affairs acting deputy
director-general for regulation, Helgard Muller, told reporters in Pretoria on
Speaking at a media briefing following the gazetting of the
draft second National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS), he said this was one of
the key aims behind the plan, which was open for public comment over the next
The new NWRS was recently approved by Cabinet. It lays out a
strategy for water resources management over the next 20 years, with a
particular focus on the period 2013-17.
Muller said water planning and implementation needed to be
done in time so that South Africa's growth and development was not hampered.
If all sectors worked together, "we can actually
prevent such an event".
This would include "stretching what we have",
including the use of more groundwater, the re-use of effluent, desalination,
and achieving greater efficiencies.
Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa earlier said a new study
showed the funding needed over the next 10 years for new water infrastructure
was now R670bn, up from the estimate of R573bn she gave earlier this year.
"The funding gap is R338bn over this (10-year)
period," she said.
Responding to a question, she said "various
mechanisms" were being looked at to raise the money.
"We're not saying it will all come from the fiscus now;
we're looking... at various other mechanisms where there are funds that are not
necessarily adequately and properly used, so we can re-channel these."
Molewa said her department was also working on a new tariff
"It is highly likely that if we do our billing systems
and water metering properly, billing the right people... we will realise income
that will not (make it necessary) to have lesser (sic) people paying more for
There might, however, be a need for cross-subsidisation.
"It is possible also that as we think through these
things, there would be a need to consider some possible cross-subsidisation...
in areas where people are not able to afford (water)."
The minister said stopping water losses - including
unaccounted for water and that lost through leaking pipes - was a priority for
According to the NWRS, both the agricultural sector (which
uses about 60% of the country's available water) and municipalities (which
consume about 27%) are losing up to half and more of the water they receive.
"In municipalities, non-revenue water sits at more than
37% on average, although it is not measured in many municipalities where losses
are estimated to be close to 50%. In many irrigation and domestic schemes it is
worse, with losses of up to 60%.
"In terms of loss in revenue, these losses account for
more than R11bn a year in the municipal sector alone."
The document says about 10 billion cubic metres of water are
available in South Africa annually.
On the inefficient use of irrigation water by farmers,
Molewa suggested massive adaptation was needed.
This meant, for example, changing mechanisms - such as
centre pivot irrigation systems - to drip irrigation methods.
"We know this is an expensive exercise, but we need to
move in that direction... It's a dire necessity to ensure we don't have the
water losses we have," she said.
Molewa also noted that a "high level of money" was
being spent by her department on cleaning polluted water.
"Our country is experiencing significant water quality
challenges... In addition, our water ecosystems are not in a healthy state. Of
the 223 river ecosystem types, 60% are threatened, with 25% of these critically
She said preventing such pollution would cut the "high
level" cost of cleaning the water to make it fit for consumption.
Major contributors to the deteriorating water quality
included the mining sector, industry and agriculture, as well as urban
On bridging the R338bn funding gap over the next
decade, she said sources being looked at included the municipal infrastructure
grants, the state-owned Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, and off-budget and
private sector funding.
"That's where we think... we will be able to bridge
this gap, even if we might not be able to close it tightly," she said.
According to the NWRS South Africa's past 16 years of
above-average rainfall was a period that might be drawing to a close.
"This trend is unlikely to continue."
It further warns of the water risk facing the country's
"Water risk to business is real. Companies across
several industry sectors should start to take the lead in quantifying their
exposure to water risk, and should develop plans to mitigate these risks,"
The NWRS notes that while South Africa has world-class
water-management legislation, implementation of this "has been slow".
The country is ranked the 30th driest in the world.
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