South Africa is losing an average of 1.58 billion kilo-litres of water a year — the equivalent of 4.3 million swimming pools of water. The water wastage, attributed mostly to leaky pipes and theft, represents more than a third of all municipal water.
Aside from costing the South African economy a hefty 642 million dollars a year, widespread water wastage jeopardises the country’s socio-economic development.
“Water is not just part of the economy, it is the lifeblood of our economy,” Christine Colvin, senior manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature’s freshwater programme in South Africa pointed out “Expecting to maintain the economy and grow it without water is like expecting someone to carry on living after draining all the blood from their body.”
Kobus van Zyl, associate professor of hydraulic engineering at the University of Cape Town explains “The huge problem is that we’ve lost a lot of expertise, both on a local level in municipalities and at a national level within the Department of Water Affairs. As a result there is a massive shortage of engineers and project managers, and you simply cannot manage a distribution system properly if you don’t have enough people with the necessary expertise to do so.”
Of the more than 230 municipalities in South Africa, 79 have no civil engineers or technicians and only 45 have civil engineers, according to a report by Allyson Lawless, a former president of the South African Institute of Civil Engineering. To illustrate how extreme the situation is, Lawless’ report pointed out that there are more civil engineers serving the zoo infrastructure in Auckland, New Zealand, than in 86 percent of South Africa’s municipalities.
Van Zyl pointed out that South Africa’s poorest areas are likely to be hardest hit by water shortages. “The drier parts of the country will be the first to experience shortages. These are commonly areas where the previous ‘homelands’ were established, which are still radically impoverished,” he said. He added that “warning signs are now very clear in South Africa — demand will outstrip supply unless immediate action is taken.”