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Water for thought

25 July 2017

Water is a resource that affects all and without it, the reality we face is that businesses and industries will eventually collapse. There will ultimately be very little or no economic growth. The lack of water has a fundamental impact on the construction industry whether we would like to believe it or not.

South Africa has recently been experiencing severe water shortages. The water scarcity has deteriorated to a critical level that requires urgent attention. To prevent long term damage, we urgently need solutions.

We are not alone in South Africa. The global increase in water scarcity has initiated the creation of a panel of high level global leaders by the United Nations. Convened to address global water crises, the panel met for the first time in September 2016 in South Africa to discuss water management and sustainability. The High Level Panel on Water concluded that water governance is inherently complex, with many shareholders or stakeholders across multiple sectors. It is characterised by incomplete data as well as hydrological and administrative boundaries that often conflict. In addition, it requires a “whole society approach”.

To address the water deficit, we need to accept the responsibility of managing our water resources as members of society and private stakeholders in the construction industry. We cannot attribute the responsibility of managing resources solely to the government.

The problems we face are the following:

  1. Investments in water infrastructure and waste management systems are lacking. People are reluctant to invest due to the lack of confidence in the return of the investment and water infrastructure is inherently costly. Private entities need supplement government funding by investing in water infrastructure and developments.
  2. South Africa does not have the infrastructure to manage water usage by industry. Water-intensive sectors include construction, mining, manufacturing, chemical, energy and agriculture. In addition, the waste water produced by these industries needs to be managed. The lack of water management and waste management systems in the construction industry means that we need to implement proper and better waste management systems to treat waste water and eradicate further harm being caused and compromising the quality of water being consumed further downstream.
  3. Ground water and surface water is being affected by acid mine drainage. The water/sludge pumped out by mining companies into local dams, streams and river (water supplies) has a long term impact on the quality of water and may be causing a greater impact than understood – drainage of dams, drying of dams – all of which have a knock on effect in the longer term. We need to prioritise our waste management systems.
  4. There is a lack of desalinisation plants to enable us to utilise sea water in coastal areas to supplement municipal water supplies. The solution is to invest in such plants or test desalination in coastal regions as case studies.
  5. We need to monitor the usage of clean drinking water by major plants and substitute this with grey water for all other uses.

I believe that the lack of suitable infrastructure is the largest contributing factor to the water crises we face today. We need technical solutions that are both functional and sustainable. If we do not develop the infrastructure to properly manage our resources, we will certainly not be able to provide water services that are necessary for future economic development.

I believe that South Africa has ignored this issue over a prolonged period of time and adopted a passive approach to the water crisis which has caused the diminished resources. We need to become aggressively reactive to ensure that the problems we face are effectively dealt with.

In order to ensure that we have an efficient and fully functioning water management system, we need to invest our time and efforts to discover new ways or technologies, in order to progress and become sustainable, so that we do not aggravate the water crises in South Africa. The solutions need to be designed essentially to work collectively with nature and the environment.

Author: Trenelle Moodley, Candidate Attorney