Waste not, want not

When I volunteered for Mandela Month, I helped to clean up a river

By Andrew (‘Andy’) Camphausen

In terms of the world’s resources, South Africans use 40% more water than what the world averages. What does this make us?

Are we a wasteful society concerning our water resources? Gauteng’s main potable water resource, the Vaal Dam, is less than 40% full, as has been broadcast in various media. The Vaal Dam has a capacity of 994 million cubic metres, but with human and industrial consumption as well as no rainfall, these levels will continue to diminish drastically. To give an idea as to how fast a dam can empty, the Vaal Dam was at 68% capacity less than a year ago in November 2015.

A recent weather report revealed that no significant rainfall is expected in Gauteng until December, which places even more strain on our economy, people and industry.

Then there are the service delivery problems. In the coming months, we may see more violent service delivery protests surrounding our water and the lack of it.

With the exception of South Africa, the world consumes an average of 173 litres of water per person per day for cooking, bathing, washing, and drinking. In South Africa, we use an average of 235 litres per person per day to perform the same tasks. Then there is agriculture. It takes 5 000–7 000 litres of water to grow the food needed to feed one person per day. South Africa might be rich in terms of its agricultural soils, but if there is no water, there is no life and the risk of South Africans starving becomes very real. It is not always viable for our fragile economy to import food for its people.

So, are we a wasteful society in terms of our water consumption? Do we live by “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?” With these facts in mind, it seems that the reasonable answer is yes.

When I volunteered for Mandela Month, I helped to clean up a river. The banks of the river were filthy and strewn with plastic, bottles, cans, soiled nappies, and condoms. Pupils from various schools came to help us and the river was clean in no time. We gave out snack packages to thank the pupils and in an instant, the plastic sweet wrappers had been dropped to the ground, replacing the litter that we had just cleaned up. We as South Africans are not environmentally conscious to dispose of our rubbish in the correct manner. The same can be said for water. If South Africans use 40% more water than what is used by the rest of the world’s inhabitants, we can deem ourselves a wasteful water unconscious society.

Too many times, we see people hosing down their driveways instead of using a broom to sweep leaves and dirt away. Too many times, we see a running tap in a shopping mall, but we walk past it, thinking someone else will turn it off. Too many times, we see an overflowing sewer line on the side of the road and all that water going into the main stormwater line, which eventually ends up in the sea. Too many times, we see a burst water main and think that the local municipality miraculously made a water fountain in the middle of a busy road overnight. But, do we pick up the phone and speak to the local municipality to sort out a water problem? Too many times, we may walk into the ablutions facilities at schools and look at all the water pooling on the floor, but we do not ask what can be done.

In California, a water campaign called “Waste not, want not” was started; the main aim of which to raise the population’s awareness of the serious water shortages faced there.

We as the plumbing fraternity need to raise the water conservation awareness in our plumbing-related bodies. This can be done in two ways. First, when doing a plumbing job, be mindful or even have a checklist to give to the customer to make them aware of all the wasteful appliances or taps around the building. Second, we should cultivate a maintenance culture in which we prevent leaks in all buildings in the built environment. If we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it?

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