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Sat May 28 21:40:48 CAT 2016

Our water supplies dependent on skills of foreign engineers

The Times Editorial | 07 March, 2016 00:30

South Africa's drinking water is under threat not only from the drought but from a "chronic" shortage of engineers in municipalities.

The Municipal Benchmarking Initiative report of 2015, compiled by the SA Local Government Association and the Water Research Commission, says that this country has not even a tenth of the number of water engineers needed to run municipal water networks adequately.

According to the report, we have only four engineers for every million people in the population - a far cry from the 50 per million cited by the SA Institution of Civil Engineers.

The lack of engineers has a detrimental effect on the quality of drinking water and on the ability of municipalities to prevent crippling water losses.

At least 34% of the country's potable water is lost because of leaks caused by ageing, deteriorating infrastructure.

According to the Department of Water and Sanitation, about R7-billion worth of water is unaccounted for each year. This is about 1.58billion kilolitres of water, enough to fill about a third of the Gariep Dam, the biggest dam in the country.

The situation is so dire that last year Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane announced that the government was "importing" Cuban engineers to provide the skills we need to tackle our water infrastructure problems over the next two years.

This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

For the long term, we must train home-grown engineers through the universities and trade schools.

Once qualified, they should be paid so well that they will not be susceptible to poaching by the UK, Australia and Canada when their skills are so desperately needed here at home.

It's either that or we will have to continue indefinitely to rely on outside help to protect our water supply.

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