Take dam notice: SA's water crisis must be 'top priority'
And delegates at utility summit paint a bleak picture of the continent's energy, water and power future
By 2050, 1.9 billion urban dwellers will be living with seasonal water shortages, and we need to take notice. Climate change is real, water issues are real, and the two are connected.
This is the message loud and clear at African Utility Week in Cape Town where about 7,000 delegates from around the world are talking about energy, water and power.
Alexander Bakalian, who heads up Water Supply and Sanitation at the World Bank, and who is currently in Cape Town, said that only 33% of the urban population in Africa has access to piped water, but that there are successes on the continent “to be shared and replicated”.From closer to home, and also speaking at the conference, Kobi Brand, who is Africa regional director for global organisation ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), said: “We are already using far more than two planets’ worth of resources and, if we are going to address poverty, we would need three.”
Her organisation sees local governance as having a key role.
“Mayors will need to ensure that basic service delivery needs are met, and that is not happening in Africa right now,” she said, adding that engineers need to acknowledge that cities are “living organisms” where sometimes as much as half the population leaves at one point and comes back in after a holiday or weekend.
Of South Africa, she said: “We have seen drought in Cape Town. But it’s not unique to this city. It is affecting many cities and provinces and it will certainly take years for this region to recover from it.”She cautioned, however, against seeing it as all doom and gloom.
“We can say: ‘Wow this is an insurmountable challenge.’ But I am asking us to see it as an opportunity: we have the technologies, we have the people and we know what can be done.”
Solutions lay in leapfrog technology (going from being behind the curve to adopting the latest technologies without rolling out the ones in between), simple solutions, and looking to nature for systems that work best.
“This is the century where we can take these challenges and turn them into an opportunity to build cities that people can live quality lives in,” she said.
Gerardt Viljoen, general manager for Sensus in Africa, said the water crisis in South Africa should take centre stage above all else.
“We want utilities to start thinking out of the box on water solutions, capabilities and solutions. The water situation in South Africa is not only worrisome, it should be considered as the top priority for any form of economic sustainability. Increasing storing capabilities, reviewing traditional catchment areas and weather pattern changes, recycling of water and waste-water treatment, network infrastructure maintenance, and demand side management should all be top national priorities going forward.”