JOHANNESBURG – According to the Water Efficiency Report released by ActionAid South Africa on Tuesday, big business should be taking the lead in helping to deal with the country’s water crisis. Because of the threat that water scarcity problems pose to both the social and economic stability of the republic, it urges industry to become involved, at least as much as government, in addressing the issue.
Perhaps there is even a space for a water innovation industry to sprout, much as the renewable energy industry has burgeoned in the face of policy uncertainty and pressing need.
“Companies, whether they are big, small or medium, are all going to be affected by the water crisis one way or another,” says water expert Anthony Thurton, who contributed to the report. “Some of them are going to be affected negatively and they’re going to either ignore it – in which case they will become victims of the situation – and others are going to be very progressive and very positive about it, and they are going to change their business model and tailor it to the new reality.”
Thurton is also the director of water technology company Gurumanzi, which provides ‘uninterrupted water supply solutions’ that address the water risk problem much like an uninterrupted power supply eases concerns over load-shedding and other power cuts. It provides a back-up water reserve that lasts up to 48 hours, that can be rented by households, schools, hospitals, and even residential or business estates.
“There are many examples of solutions that companies are working on and they are all disrupters, or game changers in their own right,” says Thurton, referring to one company that is in the process of developing a solution that treats borehole water to improve its quality.
Privatisation is controversial
Johann Boonzaaier is the chief executive manager of the Impala Water Users Association, which owns a dam in KwaZulu-Natal in the only area that has not been affected by the drought because Impala was able to sell water to the municipality. The dam is about the same size as Hartbeespoort Dam and, according to Boonzaaier, would cost around R600 million to build at today’s prices.
But he says privatising water is a controversial topic because access to water is a basic human right. He believes there is much to be done with regard to regulations in such a scenario. He points out how Eskom’s price increases have had a dire impact on the economy and that this would be magnified if the price of water were to rise to match its scarcity.
“The danger of that is that many peoples’ livelihood depends on that water,” says Boonzaaier, “and if you get industries that can pay the highest price, then what will happen to the majority of farmers who farm for subsistence and cannot afford to pay that price?”
The report also notes that making agricultural irrigation systems more efficient could save up to 40% of current water use.
“Another question is, what is the value of water? For us, the value of the water use is the total cost of maintaining the resource. But in the Western Cape, the price is four times what ours is. So how do you decide? You must remember that, you can get along without food for a while, but if you go two days without water you’re bound to perish.”
Thurton says the National Water Act and the Water Services Act are under review, and that there is a drive to have them amalgamated into one piece of legislation to address the changes that are necessary to improve water efficiency. One of the suggested changes would see residential estates being regarded as water service providers: they buy bulk water from the local authority and distribute it to their users.
South Africans use 235 litres of water per day, while an average world citizen uses 173 litres of water per day. If municipalities could reduce the per capita consumption to the world average, the demand-supply gap would be reduced by almost half – SA Water Efficiency Report 2016
“In effect, what that will do is it will privatise a certain portion of the value chain, and that will open up a whole new way of doing things… On the one hand it presents new business opportunities but on the other it is completely uncharted territory,” Thurton says.
Providing water is government’s responsibility
The report states that, while there are already acute water shortages in 6 500 rural communities, the problem will spread to the metropolitan areas. It states that, by 2030 there will be a 17% supply deficit, with the large cities being the worst affected.
“Cape Town, which falls within the Berg Water Management Area, will need to close a gap of about 28% to meet demand,” reads the report.
But Emily Craven from ActionAid South Africa says the intention of the report is not to start a dialogue on privatisation, but rather how to eradicate the inefficiencies within the country’s water eco-system. In some cases, this would lead to the companies that are directly responsible for those inefficiencies benefiting financially from perpetuating them.
Says Craven: “It would be a bit worrying if the first response from a report like this is a debate on water privatisation. Ultimately, it is government’s responsibility to ensure that people have access to clean, healthy water. That said, there is space for technology to be used to improve the system… We have seen it where mines have water purification plants that allow them to put water back into the system… What worries us is when the monetary value is put into the equation. Because mines are the biggest polluters of the water, essentially what you would have is municipalities buying their own water from the mines that polluted it in the first place”.
As water scarcity drowns the globe in worry, scientists are looking to more innovative technologies to maximise the use of what resources we do have.
A recent study found that more than 4-billion people experienced severe water scarcity over the past year and predicts it to get much worse in the next 15 years, South Africa has to take into consideration the various ways it can best use the allocation of funds by government to drought relief.
“Everything is mobile-first, in South Africa we have a lot of people accessing the internet but primarily via their mobiles so if you extrapolate this trend to mobility, there is something we call the Internet-of-Things (IoT),” said Lee Naik, Managing Director at Accenture Digital.
Naik adds: “Objects, be it desks, tables and pot plants are starting to go online by having sensors on them and as these sensors start getting connected to the internet, the question remains, can we extrapolate that data for new ways of how we work, how we run things and how we drive the economy.”
In an era where drought is common, could IoT actually help?
There are two examples as to how it could through agriculture and water piping.
“One – there’s a huge trend globally and a lot of acquisitions happening in this space, organisations are starting to put sensors on to the actual tilling equipment that ploughs the land and what happens is as you start to plough the land, as opposed to the farmer deciding what seed to plant, the sensors tell you based on the chemical composition which is the right seed to produce for that year to maximise outputs for the farmer and his revenue stream,” said Naik.
“Second, the use of IoT sensors when it comes to water, electricity and other key government utilities, what we start to see is they start to fit sensors into their piping infrastructure so before a leak occurs they actually know about it in advance and deploy teams to resolve the problem.”
Through those methods says Naik, we can proactively practice “predictive maintenance”, however the challenge comes in when one can get overwhelmed by data.
“In many cases we find that in South Africa that most organisations have many big data analytic-type technologies but very few have actual outputs that originate from these technologies.”
The key point Naik makes to those organisations is to ask the right questions in advance such as which seeds performed the best in the last ten years?
“Most of our utility players have run trial runs with this technology, so the future looks quite bright as far as IoT and South Africa” is concerned”.
Access to clean, safe water is fundamental to life. It is essential to health and well-being, but also food, energy, prosperity and economic growth. Yet the impacts of climate change threaten to make water scarcity an even more pressing issue for even more people. Successfully safeguarding this precious resource requires true partnership between organizations, both public and private.
Already, momentum is building at the global level to better manage water resources. Ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to water is a key part of the recent Sustainable Development Goals. At the national level, recent droughts from South Africa and California to Sao Paulo have hit local populations, as well as businesses and economic growth. It’s impossible to ignore extreme weather and increased competition for water — and we can expect it to worsen as the impacts of climate change increase.
Experts we partner with tell us there are two main reasons people experience low water security. Sometimes, there is simply not enough to meet demand. Around 1.2 billion people, almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million more are approaching water scarcity. This means everyone should look to reduce any unnecessary waste or loss of water, and save water wherever possible.
But there is another type of water scarcity — one where water is available but people are unable to access the quantity and quality they need. This is where we can make a real and more immediate difference. Another 1.6 billion people face this type of economic scarcity, which has multiple and complex causes, from historical inequities and poor infrastructure to bureaucratic hurdles.
The search for sustainable solutions to challenges like these brought us to work with a number of partners on both local and global water projects.
We know water scarcity is an issue that requires long-term vision and commitment. Our partnership over the past 17 years with the Unilever Center for Environmental Water Quality at Rhodes University in South Africa works to empower communities to have a say in how local water resources are managed and governed. This is critical when there are so many competing claims for water from industrial, agricultural and domestic users.
But we also need to provide immediate, practical solutions. As many households continue to suffer unreliable and interrupted water supply in South Africa, UCEWQ and partners have set up an emergency water program called Water for Dignity. Hundreds of homes are able to access safe water stored and made available through simple solutions like street water tanks. They are also supporting community-based businesses where volunteers provide household water barrels against staged payments — a model that will soon be self-sustaining.
These types of programs need to be scaled up if we want to meet the SDG of ensuring safe water for all by 2030. Today, we have just announced a new partnership with UNICEF to improve access to safe water in countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Starting in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast, the programs will promote handwashing in schools and improve water management. The aim is to provide access to safe water and drive behavior change in how people use and conserve water, in a way that is sustainable and scalable across the continent.
Our motivation for partnering with Rhodes University and UNICEF is as much a question of survival as it is of social responsibility. We know our business can’t succeed without water. We need water to grow our agricultural materials, keep our factories running and even for customers to use our products when they cook, clean and wash. We’re working hard to use water more efficiently within our own supply chain and to innovate products that help our consumers use less water. Since 1995, we’ve cut the water abstracted by our factories per unit of production by 74 percent. But there’s still much more for us to do — within our operations and with others.
The stakes could not be higher. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently noted: “Achieving the water global goal would have multiple benefits, including laying the foundations for food and energy security, sustainable urbanization, and ultimately climate security.”
This year’s U.N.-Water theme, “Water and Jobs,” is a stark reminder of how many people depend on water for their livelihood and employment.
Communities, businesses and governments all have an interest in ensuring that we manage this scarce resource sustainability and equitably. It is critical for those who lack access to water today, but it is also essential if we want our communities and economy to thrive in the future.
GROUND has broken on SA’s latest four-star green building – the first of its kind in the Eastern Cape.
The modern three-storey office block is located within the Baywest City precinct in Port Elizabeth’s western suburbs, along the N2, and signals the greater roll-out of development at Baywest City following the opening of the project catalyst, the R1.7-billion Baywest Mall in May.
Phase One of the R6-billion Baywest City development includes 2 000 residential opportunities, office and commercial space, light industry, a private school and hospital, and a hotel.
The building, which is due to open towards the end of 2016, is the first green-rated commercial office block for the Eastern Cape. The only other green-rated projects in the province, classified as “public and education buildings” by the Green Building Council, include Grahamstown’s National English Literature Museum (5-star) and Port Elizabeth’s NMMU Business School (4-star).
According to Baywest City MD Gavin Blows, the green office block was the first of many more to come for the precinct. Developers are focused on positioning the development as eco-friendly, having set aside 20% of the 320ha Baywest City site for the protection of rare and indigenous fauna and flora.
“There is immense interest in developments of this calibre,” said Blows. “Port Elizabeth has nowhere else to grow but into the western suburbs, which is why Baywest City is ideally located for the future of the city.”
A landmark deal between Baywest and Vodacom has seen the installation of the country’s largest green-fields fibre-optic network, securing the Baywest City’s future as an interconnected “smart city”, said Blows. Baywest has laid the fibre-optic infrastructure, which Vodacom will use to supply high-speed data.
The new office block will boast a modern façade, with fluid, clean lines and off-shutter concrete. An aluminium façade will mimic the outline of the Port Elizabeth coastline, said architects.
Edward Brooks, director of architects on the project, Activate, said the demand for green-rated buildings had grown globally.
“These sorts of developments are generally more pleasant to work in, and tend to attract higher end tenants. Demand has grown among the high business user category,” said Brooks. “It might come with a greater capital outlay of between five and 20%, but one needs to look at the landscape of electricity scarcity and the energy savings the building will make over time.
The office block would boast a 40 kilowatt roof mounted solar photovoltaic system, a rainwater harvesting system, and highly insulated walls, roofing and flooring to maintain a moderate internal temperature in spite of fluctuating external temperatures.
The solar system would provide 15% of the building’s energy requirements, said Brooks. Also, as a requirement for the green rating, basement parking would give preference to bicycles, motorcycles and energy-efficient hybrid vehicles. An indigenous landscaped garden around the building would be maintained using the harvested rainwater, said Brooks.
Ann-Mari Malan from AGAMA Energy, a green building consultancy firm, said the sustainability aspects implemented in green building projects have a positive environmental and financial impact.
“Given the high energy costs and water scarcity in South Africa, implementing green building practices sends out a strong message about an organisation’s commitment to sustainability whilst promoting a positive image with stakeholders, customers and employees,” she said.
Blows said the building signalled the roll-out of the greater Baywest City. Similar green rated developments would also roll out in the precinct, he said.
Development on the project comes as Phase Two of the R300-million Baywest road network is about to wrap with a road linking Walker Drive with Cape Road, via a new bridge over the N2. The second phase of the road network will open next month, further unlocking economic growth potential in the western suburbs, said Blows