Water Insecurity in South Africa
Located at the Southern tip of Africa, South Africa is one of the most developed Sub-Saharan African states on the continent. However, water insecurity in South Africa poses a risk to the economy and livelihoods of the country’s 49 million inhabitants. Rains that once provided much-needed water now fall less frequently. On top of this, some cities like Durban face issues surrounding water theft. About 35% of their water supply is stolen or dealt with illegally. For example, Cape Town has been rationing water since 2018. It has even geared up for a Day Zero, a day in which no person from the city would receive any water.

Water is a human necessity for hydration. However, it is also necessary for proper cooking, sanitation, sewage, bathing, washing dishes and cleaning clothes. Because of this, there are many favorable forces at work to alleviate the effects of water insecurity in South Africa.

5 Forces Alleviating the Effects of Water Insecurity in South Africa

  1. Universal behavior change is one of the things alleviating water insecurities in South Africa. Rationing water does not target the source of the problem. However, it ensures equitable sharing practices. The richest of individuals in South Africa’s Cape Town is receiving the same amount of water per day as the most impoverished individuals. This fact might seem obvious, but many countries in the world would struggle to enforce such practices. This dilemma comes on the back of South Africa’s groundbreaking legislation through the National Water Act. This piece of law formally recognizes sanitary water as a constitutional right. Thus, the government must work toward providing water for all constitutionally.
  2. Desalination plants are also alleviating water insecurity in this country. South Africa is beginning to invest in water desalination plants that could ultimately filter salt-water. These would be capable of providing millions with water sustainably. Ocean water would also be drinkable. While these plants are costly and time-sensitive to build, there is no price on providing a sustainable water supply. Positioned with an extensive coastline, South Africa has no limit to its provision of seawater.
  3. Additionally, improved wastewater treatment can help alleviate water insecurity. Repurposing wastewater has the potential to save large quantities of water every year. This process makes water once again usable for a variety of diverse water requirements. South Africa is continually investing in this technology, successfully targeting water insecurity in South Africa. Also, while this does not effectively solve the problem at its source, it does the most critical job of providing water to South Africans. The Mvula Trust is one of the world’s leading water and sanitation nongovernmental organizations. It is leading the charge in investment for wastewater treatment plants in South Africa. It recently organized a workshop bringing together many organizations such as the USAID and the Department of Water Affairs. The organizations agree on specific goals designed to ensure wastewater treatment is handled sustainably.
  4. Furthermore, another force that is working to alleviate water insecurity in South Africa is rainwater harvesting. While rainfall is much less consistent over the past few decades, South Africans have become more committed to taking advantage of rains. Many have installed formal or makeshift rainwater collection tanks that allow households to store water themselves. A Cape Town company named Jaguar Products has created a sleek and lightweight tank design that is not only effective but affordable. The selling of these available tanks not only aid households in securing water, but it also helps to drive the economy. It even provides money to South African businesses and jobs to South African citizens.
  5. Grocery Store Water Purification Systems are working to alleviate water insecurity as well. Because water from the tap has been scarce in some places within South Africa, many citizens have gotten water from their local grocery stores. Through donations and NGO work, many stores have drinking water refill systems. They allow sustainable purification of water. The Waterpod by I-Drop has been crucial in providing thousands with water. It will enable the shop owners to sell purified water, saves plastic through its reusability, and allows accessibility of purified water. While this is a fantastic innovation, it can only serve as a temporary fix, not as the new normal. South Africa has formally announced access to clean water as a constitutional right. Thus, individuals should not have to pay for their water. This has been effective in providing water for many households.

Overall, water insecurity in South Africa is not a problem that is going away. The country has averted many crises; however, it still needs to find a long-term solution. This issue does not only pertain to South Africa. With watersheds drying up all around the world, this issue will become more pervasive worldwide with each year that passes. Emphasizing the importance of this issue in South Africa could provide the fix that ultimately saves the rest of the world in the future. Thus, giving the South African government and its researchers the tools to succeed has the potential to solve a problem inevitable to everyone.

Keagan James
Photo: Flickr

africa water grabWater is an essential but limited resource that is unfairly allocated in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Although one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG7) is to lower the number of people that currently live without sustainable access to safe water by at least half, there is much work to do. The African water grab by international banks and corporations is leaving small African farmers quite vulnerable.

Water Rights

The term “water rights” means the right to extract water from groundwater and other bodies of water. It grants access to desalination projects, water-purification and treatment technologies, irrigation and well-drilling technologies, water and sanitation services and utilities, water infrastructure maintenance and construction. Restrictive permit systems in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe have resulted in 100 million people being left with insufficient water.

Water rights for large commercial operations in Africa are granted primarily by permit laws that were established in colonial times. Small farmers have only customary water rights, which are agreements based on tradition rather than written law. Their operations are often too small to gain permits either because the government does not have the infrastructure to grant so many permits or farmers do not know to get them. Approximately half of sub-Saharan Africa governments use customary rights to water for home use and limited farm irrigation.

Inequitable Water Distribution

Since the end of Apartheid in South Africa, water distribution has remained inequitable despite the legislative efforts of the National Water Act (NWA 36 of 1998) and the National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS2), which prioritize the allocation of water for socio-economic growth over commercial uses.

In Malawi, 80 percent of the people live in rural areas are dependant upon rain for agriculture success. This leaves the population vulnerable because there are frequent droughts, variations in climate and natural disasters. Recent estimates suggest that foreign investment in Mali’s land jumped by 60 percent between 2009 and 2010. In locations like Mali and Sudan, a new approach is badly needed. Some investors have been given unrestricted access to water. The chairman and former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has called the buy up of farmland a “great water grab.”

Traditional access is efficient until there’s a conflict. In those cases, large-scale water users, with superior entitlements to use water for large-scale irrigation, mining, industry and hydropower generation, are better able to win disputes with the government. Internationally, water rights consolidated in the hands of a few is also a problem.

These new “water barons”—international banks and investors—are buying up the world’s water quickly.  With international and influential agents having extensive rights, and local farmers having questionable rights, the already limited water systems will be further stretched. “Exclusive reliance on national permit systems has, at least on paper, “criminalized” up to 100 million people lacking water permits in the five countries studied,” wrote Barbara van Koppen, the lead author of the report.

A Hybrid Approach

A recent report argued that the consolidation of water rights is hurting the environment and the small farmer, who holds only traditional water rights. The solution, the authors argue, is to support African governments in “decolonizing” water laws through a “hybrid” approach to water-use rights.  They recommend that permit systems be retained but used instead to regulate large-scale water users that have a large impact on small farmers and the environment. The hybrid approach would also extend legitimate rights to customary laws, which have guided investments in water infrastructure as well as water sharing for centuries.

Certain aspects of this hybrid approach are already in use in parts of Africa. Uganda is focusing on providing permits to 20 percent of its large-scale water users. These users require 80 percent of the resources. In Kenya, targeted permitting has been formalized. Water users are categorized from A to D, depending on the impact their water use has, and they are regulated accordingly. However, the legal protection for small-scale users still remains unaddressed.

Heather Hughes
Photo: Flickr