Could Israeli satellite leak detection technology address the Nelson Mandela Bay water crisis?

By Dylan Stein*

Water in the Nelson Mandela Bay area is set to run out in a few days as dams which supply the metro area are at about 3% capacity. Without significant rainfall, the municipality says it will be facing an unprecedented natural disaster. Running out of water will have a disastrous effect on the population of Nelson Mandela Bay. Residents may have to collect water rations and most will be left with a limited flow of water. This will also severely impact agriculture and development in a major metropolitan area in South Africa. There is an Israeli solution ready and available if South Africans are willing to work with Israel on this global problem.

Whilst the municipal government is scrambling to find temporary solutions, such as instructing residents on how to decrease water usage, there is a potential solution to Nelson Mandela Bay’s water crisis. This is through the finding and fixing of leaks in ageing municipal water infrastructure. As much as 37% of South Africa’s water nationally is lost to leaks.

State-of-the-art technology is available to help with leak detection and preserve precious water supplies. Israeli company Asterra has focused on leak detection using satellite imaging technology. Asterra initially used this technology in an attempt to locate water on Mars, but has now turned its focus to Earth. Asterra is using groundbreaking technology to locate potential water leaks, which can be used by the local municipality to access real-time data via ground penetration with the use of microwave sensors, thus accurately identifying where the water leaks are located. This could have enormous potential for Nelson Mandela Bay as not only can leaks be spotted, but new sources of groundwater may also be discovered. 

Asterra recently announced that it has begun operating in South Africa and it is not alone. Other Israeli companies are working to solve water-related problems. Being a desert state, historically water availability has always been a challenge and innovative solutions are constantly being evolved. A variety of Israeli-developed technologies have started to make their way into South Africa, such as Watergen in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Watergen is the pioneer in atmospheric water devices which produce water from the air. In a true piece of South African ingenuity, a Watergen unit has been fixed to the back of a bakkie and is being transported to communities that are in desperate need of water. While in Mahikeng, the BlueGreen Water Technology Ltd company has helped the local government to resuscitate a dam that was heavily impacted by algae, making it once again usable. Israeli agriculture technology such as its pioneering drip irrigation has been used to save an enormous amount of water in areas which need it most. 

Desalination technology, often touted as being a possible solution, has also become far more affordable. This is a technology the Nelson Mandela Bay multiplicity could use to avoid future crises. Israel has this expertise and is willing to share her knowledge. However, instead of just making new water, it is cheaper and faster for South Africa to start by saving and recycling the water it already has. This is a major problem in South Africa where the majority of our water is not recycled. Israel reuses about 90% of its water. 

It is time for South African municipalities to think strategically and holistically about their water supply. Working together with Israeli and Israeli companies will enhance the lives of South Africans. Israel is already working across the African continent and is eager to partner with South Africa. National, provincial and local governments in South Africa should welcome the opportunity to take the initiative and work in partnership with Israel. Water is a basic human right.

  • Dylan Stein is a researcher with the South African Zionist Federation

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