No longer debatable, South Africa is in a water crisis: Scientists

JULY 30, 2015

Leading water scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on Wednesday announced that it was no longer debatable that South Africa is experiencing a water crisis as the country was already facing serious challenges in supplying enough water of sufficient quality to meet its social and economic needs.

The researchers also warned that, while the problem was currently primarily one of water quality rather than quantity, continuing population and economic growth, combined with climate change, could result in serious water shortages in some parts of the country by 2025.

The scientists stressed, however, that there were a range of actions – besides investments into large inter-basin transfer schemes – that could be taken to improve the prospects for both water supply and quality.

CSIR water resource competence area manager Dr Harrison Pienaar concurred with the Department of Water and Sanitation’s (DWS’s) assessment that there was no immediate problem with regards to theoretical water availability, with South Africa still having sufficient resources to meet demand.

However, the “crisis, which is not a debate” related to growing quality problems that meant that, in some parts of the country, there was already inadequate water available to meet the needs of citizens, agriculture and industry, or to sustain the country’s ecological baseline.

CSIR principal researcher specialising in water quality and aquatic ecology Dr James Dabrowski said that, with over 98% of South Africa’s available water resources already allocated across various sectors, the country could face a water deficit of between 2% and 13% by 2025, depending on economic performance.

However, he stressed that these future projections did not take water quality into account, despite the fact that water use was “dependent on both water availability and water quality”.

There was particular concern about the state of wastewater treatment facilities, with the most recent ‘Green Drop’ status report indicating that around half of the country’s 824 treatment works were in either a poor or critical condition.

Dabrowski warned that poor water quality was not only a risk to human and ecological health, but would place constraints on it’s use in energy production, industry, farming and recreation.

---Engineering News.