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Jobs crisis looms as drought grips Eastern Cape

Mar 04 2018 06:01
Max Matavire

The Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality is under pressure to ensure the region’s taps do not run dry as half of the businesses in the area say their operations will be severely hindered, and some are even predicting closure due to the continuing drought. If this happens, hundreds if not thousands of people will lose their jobs.

The region, with a population of 1.6 million, is comprised of Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch, as well as the surrounding farming areas of Seaview and Colchester.

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro may soon be forced to implement water restrictions as the average water level of its five supply dams is at 26%.

A survey conducted by the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber last month revealed that 63% of the businesses in the metro expressed concern that a lack of water security would force them to close down. The survey involved 136 companies that are members of the business chamber.

The chamber is now planning a water security summit to find solutions to the water shortage.

Newly appointed business chamber chief executive Nomkhita Mona said: “The plan should look at the short-, medium- and long-term needs of industry, population growth trends, models of direct investment and other integrated development plans. We also have to develop an entirely new industry through desalination plants in the city.”

About 42% of the companies surveyed also said they would not invest further or expand their current operations until the supply of water had been secured, and 90% of the businesses suggested that authorities urgently consider building desalination plants.

Some even envisaged a similar scenario to the one facing the Western Cape – the City of Cape Town has instituted level 6B water restrictions, which means citizens may only use 50 litres of potable water per person per day. This and other drastic water-saving measures have been implemented in an attempt to avoid what the city is calling Day Zero – the day the taps will run dry in the country’s second largest metro. Currently, the estimated Day Zero date is July 9, although this fluctuates according to how much water residents are managing to save.

On Day Zero, the city will switch off the supply of municipal water to the majority of its roughly 4 million residents for at least 150 days.

“We plan to drive this agenda to ensure we see results and an acceptable level of water security,” said Mona, adding that the chamber would unveil its strategic five-year plan this month.

The Coega Development Corporation (CDC) has also announced that it intends to build a R2 billion desalination and aqua plant in the industrial development zone. The environmental impact assessment for the project was approved last week.

The CDC will be going to tender and the project is estimated to commence in a year’s time.

Coca-Cola Beverages SA, which has its head offices in Port Elizabeth, has announced a partnership with government and Unilever that is aimed at saving water. It has also significantly reduced the volume of water used in the production process, and has invested hugely in water-saving initiatives at its operations.

Volkswagen SA says it introduced water-saving initiatives in 2010.

Spokesperson Matt Gennrich said: “The water problem in Port Elizabeth is far from that of Cape Town. Port Elizabeth gets its water from two sources – our five supply dams and from the north. Port Elizabeth’s taps won’t run dry. I don’t understand this hysteria. As for Volkswagen SA, we have made tremendous strides in saving water. We also use grey water, so our operation won’t be affected.”

Mandla Ndokwenza, a Zwide township carwash owner, expressed great concern at the water shortage. “Its really hitting hard on us,” he said as he dusted a car at his operation with a dry cloth.

“We cannot use hosepipes now. So how are we expected to make a living. We only hope the municipality lifts this ban (water restrictions) so that we put food on the table for our children”.

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eastern cape  |  drought
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