South Africa’s R900bn plan to tackle water shortages

By Hilton Shone

(Bloomberg) – South Africa intends spending R900bn ($61bn) over the next decade to improve its water-supply and storage infrastructure and tackle a growing shortage of the resource.

The investment is outlined in a national plan, unveiled by Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on Thursday. Its release comes as parts of the country, most notably the Eastern Cape province, are experiencing the worst drought in a century. Cape Town, the main tourist hub, almost ran out of water two years ago.

South Africa gets on average 465 mm (18 inches) of rain a year, or about half the global average, and its water deficit is set to worsen with scientists forecasting further increases in average temperatures due to the greenhouse effect of unchecked carbon emissions.

A separate unit will be established to finance, manage and operate the national water infrastructure, while projects that are currently in the works will be expedited, Sisulu told reporters at the unveiling of the plan.

“There is not enough water for a country that is industrialised with a high population growth. The demand simply outweighs the supply,” she said. “We need to constantly raise consciousness to preserve what we have.”

More than one-third of available water is lost due to leaking pipes, aging and broken infrastructure, vandalism and contamination, Sputnik Ratau, Sisulu’s spokesman, said by phone Friday. Maintenance backlogs have been exacerbated due to funding shortfalls and a failure by municipalities and other users to pay for their supplies, he said.