South Africa had a big wake up call two years ago when Cape Town came perilously close to being the first major global city to run out of drinkable water. The region was suffering from one of the most severe droughts in memory after a sustained period of low rainfall. This all transpired to put Cape Town on the brink of Day Zero, the time when the municipal water supply would be cut off.
If there was ever a doubt about the scale of this mounting challenge, then the stark figures will dispel that. In 2019, 66 per cent of the population of South Africa lived in cities and according to the WWF demand is set to reach 17.7 billion m³ by 2030 – up from 13.4 billion m³ in 2016. Estimates from the South African Government show that more than half of the wastewater treatment infrastructure is in poor or critical condition with 11 per cent of current infrastructure completely dysfunctional. The picture is equally as bleak when it comes to water treatment facilities with 44 per cent of infrastructure in poor or critical condition.
The fact that such a proportion of the current infrastructure is completely dysfunctional should be a big red flag to everyone concerned. But the solution is not just improving the current infrastructure; there needs to be significant investment to increase the capacity if we are to meet the growing demand for clean water. Certainly, investment in more wastewater treatment plants would help and there are also new strategies from the Department of Water and Sanitation with initiatives promoting desalination and water reuse.
It is not just consumers who will suffer if water is not managed sustainably, much of South Africa’s industry relies on water. In 2019, 2.5 per cent of water was directed to mining, three per cent to industrial use, two per cent goes towards power generation and a massive 61 per cent is taken up by agriculture – leaving only 27 per cent for consumption for a population of over 60 million.
Plugging the leaks
Loss of water through leakages is a huge problem with estimates indicating water losses between 15 and 30 per cent in developed countries and up to 70 per cent in developing nations. Given those figures leak detection is critical, and The Department of Water and Sanitation is addressing this problem with a strategy they call the no drop programme of certification. This targets water conservation with the aim of curbing water losses so that the result is zero losses. Municipalities can achieve a more sustainable water supply, and we can help municipalities with the water management system.
Within this solution there is an integrated geographical information system that allows municipalities to pinpoint leaks and burst pipes and act accordingly in real time. That saves them both time in increasing the efficiency of their maintenance and repair teams, but more importantly keeps any water losses to a minimum.