Cape Town – South Africa is witnessing the exact same failures that crippled its electricity grid unfold in the management of its water infrastructure, DA leader Mmusi Maimane warned in his latest newsletter on Monday.

He said these failures include infrastructure neglect, inadequate budgeting and a crippling skills shortage.

“You’d think we’d be extra vigilant in preventing similar crises developing elsewhere, now that we can see the damaging effects of load-shedding. But unless we act quickly and decisively, South Africa could soon face the prospect of planned water cuts to ease the pressure on our resources. And water-shedding could make load-shedding look comparatively tame,” said Maimane.

“Unlike electricity, there is no alternative source or replacement for water.”

He pointed out that the Department of Water and Sanitation launched an investigation and released a report which revealed that there may 15 to 20 municipalities affecting more than 100 water supply systems where the management of water services has deteriorated to such an extent that a water crisis is imminent.

“South Africa is facing a water crisis, and we need our government prioritise this.
We are a dry country. In fact, we are ranked the 30th driest in the world, with only 8.6% of our rainwater available as surface water,” said Maimane.

“And because of the way our water resources are geographically distributed, we have a real challenge in matching up supply and demand.”

He said on top of that, SA’s water infrastructure is insufficient, ageing and neglected. The average water loss across SA’s municipalities – which includes losses in pipes, inaccurate meter readings and unauthorised consumption – stands at 36%. In terms of water revenue, this amounts to a loss of more than R7bn per year.

In his view the first and most obvious issue that needs to be addressed is the insufficient budget set aside for fixing and maintaining our water infrastructure, coupled with the fact that much of the existing budget simply goes unspent.

Last year Government indicated that new water and sanitation infrastructure will take a capital investment of R670bn over the next ten years. This year, they revised that estimate to R850bn. But only 43% of this has been allocated, said Maimane.

“The largest polluter of our water is not mining, manufacturing or any of the big industries. It is dysfunctional municipalities themselves – their neglected water treatment plants end up pumping sewage straight back into our rivers and dams,” he continued.

“It is estimated that we have between five and ten years left to transfer vital skills from an older generation of South African engineers before these skill are no longer available.”

In his view it is only if SA knows the full extent of the water problem, that everyone can act in time to avoid a full-blown crisis.