It came as a surprise to me that only 0.25% of the water on our planet is available to us. I do know that it is not evenly distributed and that water is the source of all of life. I’ve also heard a rumour about the shortage of this resource. It is therefore no surprise that an entire conference was recently dedicated to spreading awareness about the serious trouble our water is in.
I attended the Sustainable Water Resource Conference hosted by Alive2Green at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg.
The conference was opened by Ms Rejoice Thizwilondi Mabudafhasi, Deputy Minister of the Department of Water and Environment Affairs. ‘Our economy is growing, so we need more water. Therefore we need to seriously look at our infrastructure. We will never achieve the Millennium Development Goals if we don’t think out of the box. ‘Government is trying to move away from only implementing policy after policy towards monitoring whether they actually work.’
Responsibility rather than sustainability
Dr Rob Terrell, a specialist in industrial water treatment and environmental expert for ABB in the United Kingdom, said that perhaps the water conservation focus should be on responsibility, rather than sustainability.
‘We shouldn’t take into account the cost of water, but rather the value.’
Water is a finite resource and cannot be manufactured when it’s depleted. Therefore we should take great care not to damage the water we have by dumping dangerous chemicals into it.
He explained that industrial use of water increases with country income. He assured business that local supplies need to be protected, even if they don’t see the point in investing in sustainable water usage practices. It’s not viable to transport water over long distances.
Dr.Terrell emphasized the importance of recovering contaminants from the water at the source, instead of sending it to a second location to be chemically treated. He had also establishing measures to reduce water usage altogether.
- Measuring your water usage. How much water you use, where you are using the water and where you are losing water.
- Improving housekeeping: Awareness, fixing leaks, and reducing wastage by using better cleaning methods.
- Improving management of existing water.
- Reusing water without treatment: Ideally local, direct use without high tech processes. As Tawanda Nyandoro, from Rand Water, said: ‘You don’t require drinking quality water for cooling down manufacturing systems.’
- Recycling water after treatment: Focus on the minimum treatment required.
- Redesigning distribution: It is essential to understand where water ought not to be used.
No progress without measuring
Most important is to remember that you cannot achieve full savings in one step. ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ he asked, ‘In small pieces. Just remember, if you can’t measure your progress, you won’t get there. We can predict as long as we can monitor and measure.’
Mao Amis, Programme Manager of the Catchment Stewardship programme at WWF, said there is an urgent need for leadership to channel South Africa towards a low water economy. He emphasized the need for a holistic approach to water resource management by combining cooperative governance with private sector leadership.
After a slide show of images of the effects of ‘a world addicted to oil’ with the water peak, pollution, loss of habitat, invasion, extinction and fragile freshwater ecosystems, he paused for a moment and said: ‘I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to get up off my jack, go into the bush and do something.’
He mentioned the importance of healthy ecosystems for flood prevention, groundwater recharge, good water quality, lower erosion rates as well as lower sediment loads. These are connected to the key economic drivers that threaten them.
Business must move from managing risk
‘It is important to understand the trade-offs. Business needs to move from managing risk to shared value by, among other things, redefining productivity in the value chain and enabling local cluster development. ‘
According to Samantha Braid, Integrated Water Resource Management specialist at Aurecon, ‘water is a part of an integrated cycle and you can’t only look at rivers, for example.’
But more complex than this is the ‘imbalance between population distribution and rainfall.’ She discussed the importance of the established 19 Water Management Areas and the two Catchment Management Agencies in trying to manage the imbalances.
Dr Mark Dent from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, focused his talk on a possible practical solution starting point. ‘The Department of Water Affairs must helicopter above all the sectors that demand their share of the water. Lock the sectors together in one room. Discuss the issues with all the sectors present, referee the process and let all the players play together. If the process is transparent it will resolve many issues.’
I owe my being to the rivers
Mao Amis quoted Thabo Mbeki’s famous speech: ‘I am an African! I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.’
You and I are Africans too, and as Ms Mabudafasi said, ‘we are one country.’ Water belongs to everyone. The access to it is regarded as a basic human right. But if it belongs to us all, we are all responsible for it.
Water doesn’t respect man made borders. It is both a giver of life in times of drought and a carrier of death in times of flood. Water is vital to the survival of the human race.