South Africa is listed 128th out of 132 countries on the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which measures a country’s performance in terms of water, air quality and overall environmental performance.
“South Africa’s poor performance is mostly because of the environmental devastation caused by the overexploitation of our limited water supply,” says Harold Smook, founder of Urban Roots – Sustainable Communities Initiative and registered Professional Engineering Technologist.
On 22 March World Water Day was celebrated globally. But South Africa had little to celebrate according to Harold Smook:
“We can celebrate our water policies – the most progressive policies in the world, but when it comes to implementation we have nothing to celebrate,” says Smook.
84% of our river ecosystems are threatened
“Acid mine drainage, water system losses and pollution, lack of holistic approach to water security, poor demand management, unchecked mining activity and our continuous hunger for coal fired power plants has resulted in 84% of South Africa’s 112 unique river ecosystems being classified as threatened and a disturbing 54% critically endangered,” said Smook.
He said that most of South Africa’s water resources have already been allocated and water licences have been expropriated from farmers to provide water for the mining and energy sectors – especially in the Vaal River system.
“The interrelatedness of water, energy and food has to form part of any attempt to improve water security. Once water stressed conditions arise there are significant trade-offs resulting from the water-food-energy nexus. In South Africa the conditions of our natural ecosystems combined with the increase in coal fired power plants and increased mining activities, is an indication that government is focused on economic growth at all costs rather than the basic human needs of the people; water and food security.”
While there are alternative sources of energy, there is no replacement for water. “South Africa has an abundance of natural beauty, but if the rivers start dying, ecosystems will be destroyed with devastating consequences.”
The escalating water crisis is caused by population growth, prosperity and pollution. Agriculture is the biggest national and global consumer of water and growing populations demand more food. Furthermore, a person rising out of poverty prefers protein based diets, which requires significantly more water to produce than carbohydrate foods.
Water budget deficit of R342 billion
R670 billion is needed over the next ten years to:
- service previously unserviced communities (17%)
- grow and maintain the water infrastructure (34%)
- rehabilitate the existing infrastructure (49%)
However, the South African Government only has an available budget of R332 billion, which leaves a budget deficit of R342 billion.
A part of the solution lies in demand-side driven solutions, says Smook. “Consumers need to realise how important it is to use only as much as we need and as efficiently as possible. Governments and business need to realise that economies cannot grow indefinitely with limited water resources. We need a paradigm shift and to start living within our planetary limits.”
Smook will be speaking about water security aspirations at African Utility Week which is taking place in Cape Town from 14 – 15 May.