SA could have no safe drinking water in 5 years…

South Africa could have no safe drinking water in five years – unless the crisis is addressed. That is the prediction from Dr Ferrial Adam, the Executive Manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse). She speaks to BizNews about the Department of Water and Sanitation reports that show that 46% of drinking systems don’t comply with microbiological standards, 67.6% of wastewater treatment works are failing, and 47.4% of our water is lost or unaccounted for. Considering that there was a 41% deterioration over nine years, we put it to Dr Adam that we could have no drinkable water in 10 years if it continued to deteriorate at that rate. “… if we carry on like that…I don’t even think we’ll have to wait for 10 years. I think it will be about five years, because once you reach a particular point, you know, a tipping point, it’s just downhill from there and it’s much faster. So I think that in terms of the quality of our drinking water, there definitely is a need to treat it as if there’s a crisis.” – Chris Steyn

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Relevant Timestamps

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:26 – The blue drop report 
  • 01:03 – How has our drinking water worsened since the last report?
  • 01:55 – We may not have drinkable water in 10 years, correct?
  • 02:43 – The green drop report
  • 03:20 – Rate of deterioration 
  • 03:38 – Main factors impacting tissue crisis
  • 04:39 – No drop report
  • 05:37 – Conclusion

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Highlights from the interview

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

South Africa could have no safe drinking water in five years – unless the crisis is addressed.

That is the prediction from Dr Ferrial Adam, the Executive Manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse).

She speaks to BizNews about the Department of Water and Sanitation reports that show a deterioration in quality controls across the country: 46% of drinking systems don’t comply with microbiological standards, 67.6% of wastewater treatment works are failing, and 47.4% of our water is lost or unaccounted for.

“The main finding in the Blue Drop report is basically looking at the quality of our drinking water and basically it is saying that almost 46% of our drinking water across the country is undrinkable. So that means that it has high levels of bacteria in it, it does not meet microbiological standards -and so almost half of our drinking water in the country is not drinkable.”

Considering that there was a 41% deterioration over nine years, we put it to Dr Adam that we could have no drinkable water in 10 years if it continued to deteriorate at that rate.  “Correct, and this is why we say as WaterCAN that this is a crisis. If we say it’s a crisis, then people will work with urgency and they will do everything in their power to make sure that things change. But when we say, no, there’s no crisis, it’s fine. Then people become relaxed, well, this is how things are. And if we carry on like that…I don’t even think we’ll have to wait for 10 years. I think it will be about five years, because once you reach a particular point, you know, a tipping point, it’s just downhill from there and it’s much faster. So I think that in terms of the quality of our drinking water, there definitely is a need to treat it as if there’s a crisis.”

Dr Adam also comments on the Green Drop report which contains the details of “another crisis”. 

“The Green Drop basically is the measure of our wastewater treatment works in South Africa. And it is telling us that at least 67% of our wastewater treatment plants or treatment works are at a critical level. And some are not even operating properly. So that means that the waste sewage and other waste pathogens are going straight into our rivers or streams.”

Asked to list the main factors contributing to this crisis, Dr Adam says: “One is the lack of maintenance on our infrastructure. Government should be spending a certain amount…on maintaining infrastructure, maintaining pipes, maintaining wastewater treatment robots, and they have not been doing that. 

“The second issue is having skilled people in positions where they can deal with wastewater and they can deal with purification of water. We don’t have enough skilled people. The minister found in Limpopo, one of like 280 people was actually qualified for the job that they were doing. The other thing which is a very big thing is if you look at those 10 years of no reporting, it’s those 10 years where we were affected most by State capture, corruption, mismanagement… now we are feeling how bad the corruption was during those years..”

As for the No Drop report, she says: “What we’re finding is that at least 46% of that water is being lost. So non-revenue water is water that’s not billed. So municipalities are just not billing for it, or it’s theft, and that could be from big commercial structures to small areas where people are stealing water, they don’t have the license for it. And the third one, which is a big one, is water leaks and failing infrastructure. So literally, we pay for that water and 46 percent of it gets lost.”

Transcript of the Interview

Chris Steyn (00:01.021)

How dirty is our drinking water? We speak to Ferrial Adam of WaterCAN. Welcome Ferrial.

ferrial adam (00:10.018)

Thank you, Christine. Thank you for having me on your show.

Chris Steyn (00:13.361)

You have had time to study the latest reports by government. May we please start with the Blue Drop report? What are the main findings?

ferrial adam (00:25.718)

The main finding in the Blue Drop report is basically looking at the quality of our drinking water and basically it is saying that almost 46% of our drinking water across the country is undrinkable. So that means that it has high levels of bacteria in it, it does not meet microbiological standards – and so almost half of our drinking water in the country is not drinkable.

Chris Steyn (00:56.945)

How has the quality of our drinking water deteriorated since the last report was issued by government?

ferrial adam (01:06.45)

So the last report was last year, which was a watch report. And the one you’re talking about, I think, is the 2014, 2013 one, which is almost 10 years ago. And it has deteriorated significantly. We can see that the 10 years of not reporting on the state of our water has actually, has caused it to be in the state it is right now.

Chris Steyn (01:36.869)

If I read it correctly, back then only 5% of our drinking water was undrinkable, whereas now it’s 46%. So if we are looking at a 41% deterioration over nine years, we could have no drinkable drinking water in 10 years if it continues to deteriorate at this rate. Am I understanding it correctly?

ferrial adam (02:00.814)

Correct, and this is why we say as WaterCAN that this is a crisis. If we say it’s a crisis, then people will work with urgency and they will do everything in their power to make sure that things change. But when we say, no, there’s no crisis, it’s fine. Then people become relaxed, well, this is how things are. And if we carry on like that…I don’t even think we’ll have to wait for 10 years. I think it will be about five years, because once you reach a particular point, you know, a tipping point, it’s just downhill from there and it’s much faster. So I think that in terms of the quality of our drinking water, there definitely is a need to treat it as if there’s a crisis.

Chris Steyn (02:46.117)

Now what about the Green Drop?

ferrial adam (02:50.698)

So there’s another crisis. The Green Drop basically is the measure of our wastewater treatment works in South Africa. And it is telling us that at least 67% of our wastewater treatment plants or treatment works are at a critical level. And some are not even operating properly. So that means that the waste sewage and other waste pathogens are going straight into our rivers or streams.

Chris Steyn (03:23.397)

What has the rate of deterioration there been over the last nine years?

ferrial adam (03:30.706)

It’s also been very high. I mean, I think we always had issues, but I don’t think to this extent of 67 percent…two-thirds of your wastewater treatment works are not operating. We would not, we would not be there

Chris Steyn (03:44.881)

And what are the main factors contributing to this crisis?

ferrial adam (03:56.214)

So there are a few factors. One is the lack of maintenance on our infrastructure. Government should be spending a certain amount a year on maintaining infrastructure, maintaining pipes, maintaining waste water treatment robots, and they have not been doing that. The second issue is having skilled people in positions where they can deal with wastewater and they can deal with purification of water. We don’t have enough skilled people. The minister found in Limpopo, one of like 280 people was actually qualified for the job that they were doing. The other thing which is a very big thing is if you look at those 10 years of no reporting, it’s those 10 years of where we were affected most by State capture, corruption, mismanagement…and that has a, it’s actually kind of now we’re feeling how bad the corruption was during those years.

Chris Steyn (04:56.069)

Okay, what about the No Drop report?

ferrial adam (05:03.894)

So that also means another, the No Drop report basically gives you an idea of the non-revenue water. So as government, we are taking water, but government’s taking water, the red water, the water boards, cleaning it and then selling it to municipalities. What we’re finding is that at least 46% of that water is being lost. So non-revenue water is water that’s not billed, so municipalities are just not billing for it, or it’s theft, and that could be from big commercial structures to small areas where people are stealing water, they don’t have the license for it. And the third one, which is a big one, is water leaks and failing infrastructure. So literally, we pay for that water and 47, 46 percent of it gets lost.

Chris Steyn (06:02.429)

So almost half our water is lost.

Here is a PDF containing the Release of the Full Blue and no Drop Reports, and the Green Drop Progress Assessment Report.

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