The Fika-Patso dam nearly ran dry during a drought season in October 2019. The dam located in the Free State province is the main source of water for the area. Photo: Alaister Russell/Gallo Images
South Africa is going to run out of water.
That’s the expert opinion of Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata from the International Water Management Institute’s regional office for Southern Africa who added that water management and distribution entities – as well as disaster management teams – should already be preparing South Africa for its next drought.
Citizens have in recent years not only been hit with water shortages, but also with water supply that is unfit for human consumption.
Jacobs-Mata told City Press that while South Africa has always been a water scarce country, what has become increasingly concerning has been the severity and frequency of droughts.
Jacobs-Mata, an expert in water governance, was adamant that Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis – where the levels of supply dams were critically low, forcing strict water restrictions – would almost certainly happen again.
It is definitely going to happen again and we need to know how we are preparing for this. We are going to run out of water.
With citizens facing water restrictions, Jacobs-Mata emphasised her concerns around the lack of preparedness for the inevitability of parts of the country experiencing “Day Zero” adding that projections show that by 2030 the country’s water demand will outstrip supply by about 17%.
“That will be due to a number of factors. The main one being our increasing population, especially in urban areas where the population is growing rapidly but water availability remains the same.”
She added: “South Africa has been reactive in its management response to the water crisis in the country. We managed the drought and water scarcity issue in a way of a response, as opposed to being proactive with long-term planning and mitigating strategies.”
In 2019, Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched the national water and sanitation master plan – an initiative aimed at addressing the country’s water challenges.
The creation of the master plan was driven following the drought and critical water shortage in the Western Cape in 2018. In October 2017, then Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, predicted that the city would run out of water by March 2018.
In the years since then, various parts of the country have been engulfed in water crises.
In 2019, the residents of Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, were dumbfounded after finding human faeces in their tap water. In 2020, residents of the Ngwathe Municipality in Parys in the Free State were also shocked when brown water came out of their taps.
In October, City Press reported about Mahikeng residents who had not consumed tap water for many years and only used it for cleaning, watering plants and bathing as they were unsure if the foul-smelling water was safe for consumption.
Nelson Mandela Bay residents in the Eastern Cape currently face the prospect of taps running dry in the next few weeks due to poor rain, unrestricted use and delays in the construction of the Nooitgedacht Water Scheme.
Jacobs-Mata questioned whether the water and sanitation department and the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, which are tasked with disaster management, are proactive enough.
They work well together when a drought hits, in terms of putting together task teams. But what is important is how we manage this on an ongoing basis, ensuring that people constantly have access to clean drinking water because that is where we fall short.
Questions sent to the government’s water and sanitation department were not answered.
Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, Rand Water, the city’s bulk water supplier, last week undertook planned maintenance on its system, which saw disruption a 54-hour disruption to the city’s water supply.
Thabang Molefe (26) a resident of Westdene – a suburb that lies between Sophiatown and Melville – told City Press that while he was prepared for the scheduled maintenance, it was still an inconvenience.
“One can only have so many buckets of water to use for bathing, drinking and for the loo.”
For 36-year-old Sibongile Xulu who lives in Brixton, it was not as bad as she thought it would be.
“Although the water pressure was low, we were lucky to still have water because I know people who actually had dry taps,” she told City Press. “Low pressure water was better than no water at all.”