Friday, March 9, 2012

Africa Faces Water Challenges by Frieda le Roux

According to the South African Treasury, R75bn has been allocated this book year towards “water infrastructure, quality management, resource planning and support to local government”.

This money will be spent over the next three years to address our country’s water-related problems. What water-related problems? Isn’t there enough water when I open the tap, flush the toilet, run a bath? And sure, not everybody in the townships has a household connection – yet – but we are making good progress, aren’t we?

In June 2009 already the city of Cape Town was ahead of its target of a maximum of 25 informal houses per tap. In fact, this figure stood on only 10.8 households per tap.

Alas, while other African countries might still be facing the challenge of necessary infrastructure for the provision of water, South Africa might soon find its infrastructure redundant.

According to the Environmental State-And-Trends: 20-Year Retrospective, 14 African countries already experience “water stress” and by 2025 at least 15 African countries will be in a situation of “water scarcity” – including South Africa.

The website Water Rhapsody reports that while South Africa accounts for 80% of southern Africa’s water use, only 10% of the total water resource is available in South Africa.

In the light of the above, the Millennium Development Goal of “clean water” sounds like an understatement. Water is, after all, a prime example of the so-called wicked problem, or mess, as organisational theorist Russel Ackoff preferred. As a goal in itself, clean water is imperative in achieving many of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, such as ensuring accessing to adequate sanitation and providing safe drinking water.

As recently as 2004, a mere 16% of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to drinking water through a household connection (an indoor tap or a tap in the yard). It is the second-driest region, having to support 15% of the world’s population on 9% of its renewable water resources.

Three quarters of the population lives off 15% of the available resources – ground water. Despite it being relatively expensive to drill for water, once a source is established, the general maintenance is low.

Groundwater is naturally protected from bacterial contamination, but because of the amount of water pumped from the ground, a void is often created. This space is then filled by other sources in the vicinity – often sewerage or water contaminated by heavy metals and bacteria.

The story of fresh water in Africa is typical of a continent where hope and despair are interlinked like Siamese twins. Or, as described in the Africa Water Atlas: hot spots and hope spots. Hope is the single most important commodity the future holds. Hope for a better life for oneself and one’s children.

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