A time for partnerships

Martin Czernowalow

Zama Siqalaba is the programme manager of the Strategic Water Partners Network — an NGO geared towards collaborative action between the private- and public water sector role players, aimed at closing the 17% water gap by 2030.

“South Africa has never been short of ideas, but what it lacks is execution and putting systematic measures in place to consistently manage existing water resources properly,” says Zama Siqalaba, programme manager of the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN).

“We sit in a drought, yet we have potable water losses of approximately 663 million cubic metres per year and non‑revenue water of more than one billion cubic metres per annum,” she says. The SWPN is a non‑profit organisation positioned to enable collaborative action between private- and public water sector role players, with the aim of closing South Africa’s 17% water gap by 2030.

Siqalaba holds a Master’s degree in environmental management and has 12 years’ experience in the fields of water conservation and demand management. She is extensively involved in the benchmarking of municipal water losses in South Africa, as well as the co‑ordination and the facilitation of multi-stakeholder engagements and processes.

She explains that in addition to the inefficiencies in water management at municipal level, other big challenges exist. These include aging and dilapidated infrastructure in both the municipal and agricultural water use sectors, as well as acid mine drainage and mine impacted water (in the Vaal Dam, approximately five litres of fresh water is needed to dilute one litre of mine water). The country is also faced with poor maintenance and operation of water supply networks, as well as water wastage by citizens. Furthermore, unsustainable systems and processes, such as the use of potable water for water‑borne sanitation systems — which to a large extent is the most acceptable form of sanitation in the country — also abound.

Siqalaba’s role with the SWPN involves working with the agricultural, industrial, mining and municipal water use sectors to jointly identify, fund and implement innovative and cost‑effective solutions to the water challenges faced by South Africa.

“Due to the extent of the issues we face, many opportunities for partnerships in the water sector exist. We need to upscale rainwater harvesting in both rural and urban areas. Effluent reuse for sanitation purposes (among others), focus on not only installing new infrastructure, but maintaining and making the best use of what is already on the ground,” she notes.

“It’s not all about the money, but all sectors using what they have available at their disposal to change the way South Africans view, use and prioritise prudent water management and efficiency.”


Water loss reduction

Using the Green Drop, Blue Drop and No Drop report results, the water sector can identify local areas at risk in terms of wastewater quality. This affects overall water quality in catchment areas, potable water quality as well as water losses, which in turn has an impact on water security and the ability of industries to continue operating.

In this regard, she says, the private sector can partner with municipalities to implement water loss reduction programmes by way of funding, the exchange of expertise, refurbishment of wastewater treatment plants, as well as the reuse of effluent for operations not requiring potable water, such as cooling.

“Awareness around the pertinence of the water issues we face is also critical, and charity begins at home. We urge all industries to educate their employees and use whatever avenues at their disposal internally to spread the message,” she says, adding that civil society also has a huge role to play in terms of using community platforms to advocate efficient use and management of existing water resources. “It’s not all about the money, but all sectors using what they have available at their disposal to change the way South Africans view, use and prioritise prudent water management and efficiency.”

Siqalaba explains that her dream for the water industry is to see trust between the public, private and civil society sectors in working towards the achievement of the National Development Plan. She adds that this plan beautifully encapsulates the vision of a water secure future that can support poverty alleviation, economic development, a thriving environment and sustainable ecological resources. This vision also includes the restoration of dignity and harmony to the citizens of South Africa. “I cannot imagine a better vision than that and I think this is an ideal we can all work towards achieving.”

Handling the crisis

Commenting on government’s approach to the country’s looming water crisis, Siqalaba says: “The current water situation has forced reflection on the way we do things; far more than we have ever seen. Although sometimes imperfect in approach, I applaud the government during this time for vigorously attempting to forge partnerships with other sectors and getting all hands on deck in addressing the water shortages.”

The situation has also seen the acceleration of much needed infrastructure developments — particularly in KwaZulu-Natal — which was initially worst hit by the drought.

“These developments are critical for improving water security; however, caution must be applied in ensuring that the tendency towards costly water augmentation is well substantiated.” But she warns that, both in the past and in the present, government has not made proper provision and implemented measures to use optimally what is already available.

“Until we have adequately dealt with the inefficiencies, wastage and improper management of our water systems; augmentation simply makes more water available for further wastage and losses. Accompanying the infrastructure developments, it would be good to see plans and budgets in place for maintaining that infrastructure, as well as for the transfer and the development of skills to operate the systems appropriately,” she says.

Sophisticated and high-resource demanding solutions, such as desalination, must be well investigated for context suitability and long‑term management implications, Siqalaba mentions. “This goes for all other systems and technologies applied at this time. South Africa is a world leader in the development of policies and legislation to govern water management. What has, in part, landed us in the current dire situation, is the inability to enforce compliance, monitor and regulate the sector. This area needs much improvement if we are never to sit in the same situation again.”

During the past few months, SWPN has expanded its network to include 12 new companies and organisations that are participating at working group level. An additional three new working groups have also been established to help drive some innovative projects geared towards improved future water security and management in South Africa.

A prominent project that the SWPN has been involved in, is supporting the National Agricultural Marketing Council to develop a funding and investment plan for the upgrading of the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme, in the Northern Cape. This is the largest irrigation scheme in the world, covering 369km2. From the multi-stakeholder workshops, facilitated by the SWPN, R7.5-million has been unlocked to aid in the preparation of this project towards feasibility.

“Until we have adequately dealt with the inefficiencies, wastage and improper management of our water systems, augmentation simply makes more water available for further wastage and losses.”


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