South Africa’s 3,000-kilometer coastline could support a whole fleet of eco-friendly desalination plants that will solve the country’s water shortages and produce a new industry, says Kgalema Motlanthe.
The former South African deputy president, Motlanthe served as president for eight months following Thabo Mbeki’s resignation. He spoke at round table event on black industrialists in the green economy, encouraging exploration of desalination technology, MiningWeekly reports.
South Africa in 2015 recorded its lowest annual rainfall since record keeping began in 1904. A drought, attributed to El Nino, put millions at risk of food shortage, according to Reuters.
The country is over-dependent on surface water, said Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs.
Globally, capacity is growing for seawater reverse osmosis desalination at an annual rate of 13.6 percent and this is expected to continue the next five years, according to Research and Markets. New technology is helping the industry grow by leveraging renewable energy and innovative membrane upgrades such as ceramic and polymeric membranes.
But desalination technology hasn’t caught up to demand. Desalination is extremely expensive and prone to contamination, Frost & Sullivan reported in October, 2015.
More than 17,000 desalination plants operate in 150 countries worldwide, a capacity that is expected to double by 2020, according to Frost & Sullivan’s Analysis of Global Desalination Market. The market earned $11.66 billion in 2015 and it’s expected to reach $19.08 billion in 2019.
“Environmentally-conscious countries in Europe and the Americas are hesitant to practice desalination owing to its harsh effects on sea water,” said Vandhana Ravi, a Frost & Sullivan consultant. “Eco-friendly desalination systems that do not use chemicals will be well-received among municipalities.”
While several desalination projects are under construction in the U.S., India, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, adoption is slow in other drought-stricken parts of the world. Lack of regulatory support limits uptake.
Thermal desalination technology uses large amounts of energy and releases highly salty liquid brine back into the sea or other bodies of water, impacting the environment negatively. Brine disposal remains a prime challenge until the technology is upgraded, according to Frost & Sullivan.
The goal is to reduce operating costs.
Sub-Saharan Africa is largely dependent on rainfall, which has been erratic, and new partnerships are being forged from necessity.
In May, South Africa announced a partnership with Iran to develop desalination plants along all coastal communities to boost water supplies. President Jacob Zuma visited Iran in April.
Mossel Bay in the Western Cape is the site of South Africa’s largest desalination plant, converting salty seawater to drinkable water and helping supply water to state oil company PetroSA’s gas-to-fuel refinery.
South Africa is the main user of desalination technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana and Namibia also have operational plants. Algeria is using desalination on a large scale.
In April 2015, West Africa’s first desalination plant opened in Ghana. Accra Sea Water Desalination plant has capacity to supply 60,000 cubic meters a day of fresh water, enough for 500,000 residents in the Accra vicinity, WaterWorld reported.
In late 2015, Algeria’s Skikda desalination plant reached a milestone with a 200 million cubic meters of drinking water produced since starting operations in 2009, according to WaterWorld.
Desalinated water is used as drinking water for the city of Skikda, and feeds the local petrochemical complex. The Spanish company Abengoa Water runs the facility, along with two more desalination plants in Algeria at Honaine and Ténès.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans a trip in July to four East African countries — Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Rwanda looks to Israel as a model of how to build a modern country out of the devastation of genocide, Rwanda’s Ambassador Joseph Rutabana told The Jerusalem Post.
Rwanda is on Netanyahu’s list because it is arguably Israel’s closest friend on the continent. Rwanda wants to benefit from Israeli water management expertise, according to an Israeli diplomatic source.
“Israel has no water resources, but has developed other technologies toward recycling and water desalination that has made it self reliant,” Rutabana said. “In Rwanda we have lots of rain, but are still suffering from shortages.”
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South Africa has partnered with Iran to develop desalination plants along all coastal communities to boost water supplies, the water minister said on Wednesday, as the worst drought in living memory dries dams.
South Africa last year record its lowest annual rainfall levels since comprehensive records began in 1904 as an El Nino-driven drought rips through the region, putting millions at risk of food shortage.
“Now with the partnership that we have entered into through the binational commission between South Africa and Iran we want to go full steam,” Nomvula Mokonyane told reporters.
She said the first investment meeting with Iran, where President Jacob Zuma visited last month, takes place next month and that there were no indicative costs at this stage.
The largest desalination plant in South Africa, which converts salty seawater to drinkable water, is situated in Mossel Bay along the Western Cape where it helped supply water to state oil company PetroSA’s gas-to-fuel refinery.
“We have been over-dependent on surface water,” Mokonyane said, adding that government would focus on all coastal municipalities in three provinces, including the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal.
South Africa’s weather woes have been largely attributed to a powerful El Nino system, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years with global consequences.
In a large shed to the east of Johannesburg men stacked tens of thousands of litres of water onto a flatbed truck as part of a neighbourhood volunteer campaign to save South Africa’s dry towns.
The water comes in two-litre soft drink bottles, five-litre plastic drums and a 1,000-litre bowser — all of it donated by city residents, as intense drought and continuous heat waves devastate South Africa’s farms.
For Janine Boshoff, 35, the spur to action was a Facebook post by a cattle farmer who was distraught at the choice of either watching his starving herd die — or shooting them.
“I thought if a farmer could feel that much for an animal, I would hope that humans could feel something for each other, too,” she told AFP.
She began rallying neighbours in suburban Boksburg to fill their old bottles and bring them to her house.
Within days, her sister’s employer had offered a company truck to transport the haul a few hours’ drive to parched towns in the Free State, South Africa’s agricultural heartland.
Boshoff’s neighbour, Jolanda du Plessis, 46, and her housekeeper began walking the local streets handing out flyers.
At night, the two families shut down the electric fence between their homes and passed the day’s collection over the wall to store at Boshoff’s house –- in the hallway, on the patio, and in every available room.
For 14 years, the families had been neighbours without so much as a friendly wave between them.
Now they plotted the water delivery rescue mission together in Du Plessis’ lounge, their phones ringing and pinging as messages of more donations flooded in.
– Record highs –
The regional drought, now in its second year, has been brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon and exacerbated by climate change, pushing temperatures higher in a string of blistering heat waves.
This week, the Washington-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to declare 2015 the hottest year on record worldwide.
On one Tuesday last October, 18 weather stations across South Africa recorded new monthly highs, all above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).
And in early January, both Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria saw all-time record maximums of 38 and 42.5 degrees Celsius respectively.
Such figures highlight the huge challenge of capping global warming at below two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels — the goal set at UN negotiations in Paris in December.
“The abnormally high temperatures and low rainfall during 2015 are a combination of a natural effect, which is the El Nino phenomenon, and the rising baseline caused by human-caused global climate change,” explained Robert Scholes, systems ecology professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“At this stage, they approximately equally contribute to the observed high temperatures.”
But while emergency community efforts can provide drinking and washing water to otherwise crippled small towns, they cannot replace the absent rains as fields turn to dust.
Nor are they a long-term solution to the country’s hot, dry future.
– Long-term planning –
The South African Weather Service announced last week that last year was the driest year since records began in 1904.
“South Africa is a water scarce country, it always has been,” said Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the Water Research Commission,
“We’re quite astute at dealing with water scarcity and have managed for a long while to be able to reconcile our demands with our supply.
“But what’s clear going into the future is that we’re going to need a lot more water available to the system.”
What’s required, he said, is radical diversification of sources, including new dams and desalination plants, some of which are already under way –- but also better and more efficient use of the water.
“Twenty-five percent of water, clean drinking-quality water, is lost in our system every single day. If we are able to claim this back, that’s more water available in the towns and cities immediately.”
When the truck left for the farmlands on Saturday morning — full to the brim with bottles — the donations were still coming in.
It will help in the short term but last year’s high temperatures, both locally and globally, point to more tough times ahead.
“We have made exactly the right kinds of starts that we need to secure our water future,” said Naidoo, referring to infrastructure investment.
“The key question is, when this drought ends, will we sustain this?”