Road to #SONA2017: Will the water crisis be just another elephant in the room?
By Tunicia Phillips
President Jacob Zuma dedicated just over two minutes to South Africa’s water crisis in SONA2016, courteously thanking non-governmental organisations for their charitable efforts.
“Compatriots, as we are aware, five provinces have been seriously affected by drought, namely North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Government provides relief to affected communities.
Isomiso sixakile impela ezifundazweni eziningi. Imfuyo iyafa kanti nezolimo zisele emuva. Isikhathi esinzima lesi.Uhulumeni uzoqhubeka nokuxhasa abalimi kanye nokusiza imiphakathi ngezimoto ezithwala zamanzi.
(The drought that is currently taking place in most of our provinces is really devastating. Livestock is dying and as a result, the agricultural sector is going through a difficult period. These are tough times indeed. Government will continue to assist farmers and also provide water-tank services to communities).
Let me take this opportunity to commend the civil society initiative, Operation Hydrate and others for the provision of water relief to many communities in distress.”
At the time it was hard to have predicted that dams would reach the critical levels it did just a few months later, but the devastation to agriculture was already visibly evident. While President Zuma acknowledged that the sector was taking a hard knock, many waited with baited breath for a more tangible solution to the crises. Something that may have assured people that government would be doing more than water tankers and the vague concept of ‘assistance’. The agricultural industry, for instance, was hoping that he would declare the drought a national disaster- a move that would force Government to tap into a larger budget for relief efforts.
Even as the President announced Water and Sanitation Department (DWS) programs to promote water saving, at no point did the country’s leader emphasise the essential need to reduce water consumption drastically. This is something, I think, may have communicated the urgency and importance of water saving before provinces like Gauteng saw their taps run dry a few months later.
In an article published by the Water Research Council, Mike Nord refers to a DWS report confirming that demand for water has already overtaken supply in 60% of South Africa’s water management systems.
“Nationally, we are already using 98% of our available water supply – and we are not using it efficiently.
A shocking 37% of our clean, drinkable water is being lost through inefficient ways of using water such as leaking pipes, dripping taps – and that is what’s being reported, the figure could be much higher,” he said.
I predict that the water crisis may be given a little more shine in SONA 2017 than it did in 2016. This is largely due to the fact that we may endure its effects for the next three to four years. This does, however, point towards the reactionary and after – the – fact nature of government.
As Mr Nord so adequately put it: “Regardless of whether water has become the new oil, one thing is certain: water is ironically both taken for granted and serves as the engine of our economy. If not properly managed, water scarcity will directly affect the local ability to grow and create jobs.”