IS SOUTH AFRICA RUNNING DRY?
Of the 1.4 million cubic kilometers of water in the earth’s hydrosphere, only 2.5% is fit for
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 th driest country in the world, on the precipice of a serious
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
liters 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 liters more than the global average, indicating that
there is scope to raise awareness around water wastage and reduce this number. Grey
water 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
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.