Of the 1.4 million cubic kilometres of water in the earth’s hydrosphere, only 2.5% is fit for human consumption. The global climate crisis has led to long-term changes in soil’s capacity to store water and rain patterns, while chemical pollutants have affected freshwater systems. But is South Africa, which is the 30 the driest country in the world, on the precipice of a serious water crisis? Climate change has changed rainfall patterns across the country, and severe water pollution and wastage has exacerbated the water crisis we are experiencing. Currently classified as a water-stressed country, South Africa can expect to be classified as water-scarce in coming years if infrastructure isn’t improved. 43% of rainfall in South Africa occurs on only 13% of the land, with only about 9% of rainfall ending up in rivers and wetlands. As a result, South Africa’s rainfall is decidedly badly distributed across the country, meaning many areas have fallen victim to intense aridity, such as the severe drought experienced in the Western Cape in 2015. Our hot climate doesn’t make things any easier, with up to three times more water evaporating from damns and rivers than the amount of rain that falls. Along with physical water losses, commercial losses represent about 31% of water wastage in the country. This is borne through leakages in the piped systems, accounting for up to 280 litres of water lost per capita per day in urban metropoles. With South Africa’s population having grown by more than 13 million people in the last twenty years, and cities becoming increasingly industrialized, if the infrastructure surrounding our water supply system isn’t improved, the water crisis is set to worsen and potentially bring the economy to its knees. However, while the current water crisis represents a potential state of emergency for the country, it also represents huge investment opportunity for water-saving projects. South Africa’s strong legislature regarding the environment means that if infrastructure is well maintained the crisis can be circumvented. Acting on the water crisis needs to be done on a multi-faceted level, such as working on improving water use in agricultural areas as well as improving efficiencies and fixing leakages in the industrialized areas like Durban and Johannesburg. Encouraging farms to move toward a micro-irrigation system may help save up to 10% of water used. The removal of alien plant species, which consume up to 7% more water, may also help alleviate pressure on the water system. By addressing physical water losses, domestic and municipal sectors would be able to reduce their consumption by between 12 and 30%, which would represent a modest improvement in household water efficiency.
As individuals, South African’s use 62 litres more than the global average, indicating that there is scope to raise awareness around water wastage and reduce this number. Greywater recycling and a water-friendly diet (one lower in animal products, which are particularly water-intensive to produce) could also help reduce water wastage in the country. South Africa is at the beginning of a major water crisis, with water scarcity becoming a serious concern for both government and individuals. Failure to take action may see deepening social tensions and increasingly difficult conditions to conduct business in. Closing the gap between future demand and supply of water will require an innovative approach to water saving in various sectors of South Africa. There is plenty opportunity for big players in the economy to invest in water-saving approaches that would free up enough h20 to supply 2.7 more people with their basic water needs every day.