Molewa warns of water crisis

28 February 2012 - 15:47 By Sapa
Edna Molewa. File picture.
Edna Molewa. File picture.
Image: ELIZABETH SEJAKE

"It's quite worrying," she told Sapa, speaking at the end of a media briefing in Cape Town that outlined government's plans to spend billions on infrastructure, including water infrastructure, across the country.

Experts warn that increasing demand for water is set to place severe strain on the country's ability to supply this finite resource.

Treasury's 2012 Budget Review, tabled by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week, says South Africa will start running out of water 13 years from now without better management.

"On current projections, South Africa's water demand will outstrip available supply between 2025 and 2030," the document states.

An amount of R75 billion has been allocated over the next three years for "water infrastructure, quality management, resource planning and support to local government" to address the problem.

Speaking at the briefing on Tuesday, Molewa indicated that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later.

"We don't want to wait until we have a situation like we have with electricity," she said.

Her department's hopes were pinned on various initiatives, including the completion of Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which is set to supply an additional 151 million cubic metres of water to the Vaal River system by 2020.

The department was also looking at developing ground water, as well as coastal desalination plants, although the water supplied by the latter would be expensive.

Another option was a "realignment" of water prices. In this regard, the department had drawn up a draft tariff review programme.

Molewa said that each year water boards applied for and set their own tariffs for the various agricultural and industrial users.

"This inequality is what we want to address at the moment... Every year there is this approach, and we really think this is not on. By the end of the year [2012] we will have that programme in place."

The public would be invited to give inputs to the programme -- set to affect the price they will pay for water -- before it was taken to Cabinet for approval, she said.

Molewa said the problems of leaks in water supply systems also needed to be addressed. In some areas, up to 41 percent of the water supplied was being lost before it got to the user.

Further, a major "behavioural change" was needed in the way South Africans used and consumed water.

"If we don't act, we will face a near crisis situation in the future," she said.

In his state-of-the-nation address earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma said water affairs would "invest heavily in the maintenance and construction of bulk water supply infrastructure over the next two years".

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