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Day zero should serve as warning for all South Africans

Posted: 31 January 2018


We place very high level respect on research findings in South Africa but do very little to act on recommendations or endeavour to address the root causes until its rather little too late. Previous studies on water usage and its scarcity in South Africa are a testimony to this.  Those who have ignored previous research on water and what needs to be done to change the consumer behaviour do so at their own peril.

Undoubtedly, our South African municipalities and the Water Sector have been hard at work in ensuring South Africans have access to water services as enshrined in the Bill of rights.  Municipalities have delivered this Constitutional right to over 92,5% South Africans as reported by Stats South Africa (Table 1 Below). This achievement was realised despite challenges which includes amongst others lack of adequate storage facilities, ageing infrastructure, non –revenue water and low revenue collection.  

However, it is becoming evident that despite these gains we are likely to regress purely on the basis of our inability to be a water-efficient country.  The looming #DayZero in the Western Cape and the threats of drought in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in no such coincidence but a sign of complacency in our part.

      Source: Stats SA  

Research is warning us that by 2030 there will be a 17% deficit of our current water usage if the current consumption pattern persists. A question needs to be asked, have we done enough to wake up to this realisation as a country?  Further research findings from a study conducted by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in collaboration with the Water Research Commission (WRC) indicates that over 61% of households do not know how much water they use. It is common knowledge that most of our water at the domestic level is used for Gardening, Flushing, Laundry, Cooking, and Drinking in that order. Over the years the water sector has appealed to communities to save water, however, the messages have not yielded the result we had hoped for. Therefore community outreach campaigns seem to not be the optimal instrument to save water.  To this end it evident that we need a National behavioural intervention.

Efficient water countries use about 177 per capita per day compared to South Africa’s 235. In this regard, the current water situation in the City of Cape Town requires a divine intervention. It calls for National Programme on consumer behavioural change. Such should find expression in the State of the Nation address and be championed by the President of the Republic of South Africa. It can be done if championed and given the status it deserves. We can draw lessons from a National behavioural change programme on open defecation in India championed by Prime Minister Modi. The programme started in 2014 and aims to eradicate open defecation by 2019. In our case, we require the collective Political to start now and not wait for tomorrow with a water conservation behavioural change programme. We need to strive to be a water-efficient country sooner or later as it can be done if we rally behind such an initiative.

Building more storage facilities might not be the solution in the immediate future as behavioural change is the solution to this perfect storm. Already two of our major cities (City of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay) are facing almost similar challenges. More cities will be in the same situation if not already. Given these challenges, our socio-economic transformation objectives contained in the National Development Plan and Sustainable Development Goals might not be realised by 2030 given the current situation. We are at a crossroad in the water sector and decisive action at the highest level is required immediately. Finally, constant modelling in predicting climate changeability will also be key.  In this regard, researchers must help us enhance our understanding of drought and related matters and importantly the impacts and risk associated with such. 

Let’s all do the right thing. It is evident that the drive to water savings can be achieved through behavioural change. Perhaps Government should consider introducing a water savings score card per municipality aggregated per Province. Lastly that Civil Society organisations could assist in mobilising society at large towards the attainment of a water efficient Country. If Singapore did it, we can too. 


William Moraka
Director: Water Sustainability and Innovations
South African Local Government Association


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