Revealed: how SA can avoid the 21st century water wars

Former World Bank vice-president Ismail Serageldin famously predicted that “the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water”.

But now a plan has emerged which aims to ensure that if violence erupts‚ it bypasses South Africa.

It has been put together by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Boston Consulting Group after a workshop involving dozens of experts from the public and private sectors.

Among the steps suggested in the report are:

- Water-use compliance and disclosure reporting requirements for JSE-listed companies;

- Equipping communities with the skills to fix leaks;

- Strictly enforced punitive action for abuse of water;

- Incentives for the private sector to save water; and

- Clearing alien species and converting the plant biomass into a commercial product.

WWF’s senior manager for fresh water‚ Christine Colvin‚ said the worst drought for 20 years had taught South Africa some harsh lessons.

“Although the Cape is still in the grip of a deepening disaster‚ a greater danger may be that the floods in the rest of the country wash away the good resolutions to be better prepared and strengthen water governance‚” she said.

How retailers are coming to the water-saving party in parched CapeOne supermarket group has stopped selling portable pools‚ another has banned dishwashers in its canteens and a third has halved its water use in the past decade. 

“There are actions we could take now that would prepare us better for all eventualities.

Trends in water use showed that South Africa would face a water deficit of 17% by 2030‚ the report said. By then‚ demand for water was expected to have grown from 15 billion cubic metres to 18 billion cubic metres.

Delegates at the Future of Water workshop in January imagined four scenarios:

- Ample water across the country but excessive waste due to decaying infrastructure‚ and a depressed socio-economic environment;

- Adequate water and a booming economy leading to growing demand;

- High economic growth but water scarcity due to drought and pollution; and

- Severe drought coupled with recession.

Shamed: here are the streets where the top 100 water users live in Cape TownNamed and shamed: here are the streets where the top 100 water users live in Cape Town 

Four key goals emerged from the discussion: becoming a water-conscious country; implementing strong water governance; managing water supply and demand; and becoming “water smart” by commercialising low-water technologies for industry and agriculture.

Among other ideas suggested by delegates were the separation of water supply depending on the quality needed for different purposes‚ and incentives for businesses to recycle and reuse water.

Said Colvin: “There are real opportunities for South Africa to lead Africa in the transition towards a water-smart economy‚ with new technologies and enterprise innovations that ensure out water security. But we need to take decisive steps now‚ and not wait until the next drought.”


- Average annual rainfall in South Africa is 490mm‚ compared with a worldwide average of 814mm

- Agriculture uses 63% of water‚ households 26% and industry 11%

- 35% of household water is used on gardens‚ 29% to flush toilets and 13% to do laundry

- R700-billion is needed to upgrade water infrastructure

- 46% of South Africans have a tap in their house

- 25% of water is lost to leaks in municipal systems

Source: WWF-SA 2017‚ Scenarios for the Future of Water in South Africa


 TMG Digital/TimesLIVE