No slacking‚ Sunter warns water-saving Capetonians

25 June 2018 - 14:56 By Di Caelers
Clem Stunter at the Portswood Hotel on February 6, 2013, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Clem Stunter at the Portswood Hotel on February 6, 2013, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Michael Hammond

Leading futurologist Clem Sunter praised Capetonians on Monday for halving their water consumption but warned them that the realities of climate change call for permanent solutions.

Sunter delivered the warning at the start of the Water Institute of South Africa’s biennial conference‚ which continues until Wednesday at Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The scenario planner said he was impressed by the achievement of ordinary Capetonians‚ in cutting the city’s daily water consumption from 1.2 billion litres in February 2015 to 511 million litres by March 2018.

“I don’t know how many major cities of the world could have done something like that in such a short space of time‚” he said.

However‚ climate change meant while Cape Town was enjoying downpours that had brought dam levels to 38%‚ less frequent rainfall would be a future reality.

“Day Zero must be avoided at all costs. It would be a disaster for people‚” he said‚ adding that water needed to be treated as “liquid gold”.

“We will have nature’s gift as a short-term solution where it does rain‚ but we can’t rely on nature’s gift. We need to ramp up water-saving efforts even further and‚ in the long term‚ look at what that liquid gold means to us‚ and how we can avoid becoming a ‘lost city’ here in South Africa‚” Sunter said.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said Cape Town had to learn to become a resilient city. “The dams are now 38% full‚ compared to this time last year when they were 28% full‚” she said.

“It’s very tempting to drop the stop-start showers and not to stand in a bucket to collect the run-off‚ but we have to keep doing these things because while we’re having good rains this year‚ we can’t rely on the same for next winter.”

Zille also addressed the criticism levelled at city and provincial authorities about lack of adequate forward planning and apparently slow movement on the introduction of alternative solutions such as desalination.

She said the Western Cape had struggled with multiple views and expert opinions‚ grappling with cost analyses and questions of sustainability.

“We had to consider carefully whether we could justify that spend in the bigger picture of getting the balance right‚ especially in South Africa where there is huge demand in a rapidly urbanising society‚” Zille said.

She also raised the issue of split responsibilities for water in South Africa‚ where the national government has responsibility for the bulk water supply‚ while local governments must clean and deliver the final product to end users.

This threw up difficulties in terms of duties and delivery‚ a hurdle acknowledged by Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti‚ who told the conference he had written to the premiers of all nine provinces to ask them to work with him to address the crisis.

“We cannot continue to work in silos‚” he said. “We need to institutionalise water-saving throughout the country‚ and we need all the premiers on board to achieve this‚ working together to effect concrete change.”

- Supplied by Water Institute of Southern Africa