A water crisis is looming in South Africa as dam levels continue to decline, authorities warned last Tuesday.
Due to a sharp reduction in rainfall as a result of the El Nino phenomenon, water levels of dams across the country decline week on week, the Department of Water and Sanitation said in its latest assessment, conducted on a weekly basis.
The assessment conducted earlier this month reflected a 0.4 decrease on dam levels which are currently sitting on an average of 53.4 percent compared with 53.8 percent of the previous week.
ast year at the same time the dam levels were reported to be at 76.2 percent.
There has been a falloff in average dam levels in all nine provinces, the department said, adding that a further fall off of about 10 percent before the onset of the summer rains can be expected.
Of the 211 dams being monitored on a weekly basis, 12 dams are below 10 percent, 64 dams are below 40 percent of capacity while 18 of the dams are at 100 percent.
The department said it has concluded with stakeholder consultations and recommendations are being advanced on how to intensify and ensure water supply during the current low dam levels.
Earlier this year, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane indicated that it can take more than three years for dam levels to recover to acceptable operating capacities, given the effects of a strong El Nino phenomenon.
ANALYSIS By Carolyn Logan, Michigan State University and Corah Walker
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030 is an ambitious target for Africa. According to new research by non-partisan research network Afrobarometer, nearly half of Africans don’t have access to clean water and two-thirds lack access to sewage infrastructure. Improvements in both of these areas have been made in the past decade, but huge numbers of Africans still live without these basic necessities.
The lack of access to water and sanitation has not gone unnoticed by people living in Africa. Almost half of the continent’s citizens are not happy with the way their governments are handling water and sanitation.
The global Millennium Development Goals’ target for drinking water was met in 2010. About 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water since 1990. Five developing regions met the drinking water target, but the Caucasus and Central Asia, Northern Africa, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa did not. In the area of sanitation, the target was missed by nearly 700 million people. The only developing regions to meet the sanitation target were the Caucasus and Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and Western Asia.
Lack of access to water and sanitation is a matter of life and death. Contaminated water and inadequate sanitation help transmit diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and typhoid. In Africa, more than 315,000 children die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Globally, deaths from diarrhoea caused by unclean drinking water are estimated at 502,000 each year, most of them of young children.
The situation on the ground
To assess the situation on the ground, the research looked at 36 African countries in 2014/2015 and asked nearly 54,000 citizens about their access to water and sanitation. This was in addition to recording direct observations in the thousands of surveyed communities.
We found that almost half (45%) of Africans went without enough clean water for home use during the past year, while one in five (19%) did so many times or always. One-third of surveyed communities (36%) lacked access to a piped-water system, and two-thirds (68%) lacked access to sewage infrastructure.
The infrastructure situation has improved somewhat over the past decade. Across 18 countries that Afrobarometer has tracked since 2005, the share of communities enjoying piped-water supplies increased by 14 percentage points, and sewerage has been extended to an additional 8% of communities.
Even for those who live in zones with the necessary infrastructure, however, access to clean water and toilets is often difficult. More than half (51%) of those surveyed said they had to leave their compound to access water. One in five had to leave their compound to use a latrine, and another 8% had no access at all to a latrine or toilet, even outside their compound.
Rural residents are far worse off than their urban counterparts when it comes to access to water and sanitation. Two-thirds (66%) of rural respondents had to go outside their compound to access water, compared with 30% of urbanites. About 27% had to go outside the compound for a toilet and 11% had no access at all to a toilet. This is compared with 12% in urban areas, where just 3% had no access to toilet facilities.
Experiences vary widely across countries. Almost 74% of citizens in Gabon and 72% in Liberia reported going without enough water at least occasionally, compared with 8% in Mauritius and 15% in Cape Verde. Going without enough water many times or always affected more than one-third of citizens in Madagascar (42%), Gabon (39%), Guinea (38%) and Togo (37%).
By region, Central Africa had the highest proportion of respondents who said they went without enough water at least once (55%), while North Africa recorded the lowest (33%). Rural residents were more likely than their urban counterparts to experience water scarcity (50% vs 39%).
Where water ranks as a priority
Water supply ranked fifth in importance across 36 countries when citizens were asked about the most important problems facing their country. It followed unemployment, health, education and infrastructure/transport. But it was well ahead of concerns about political violence, corruption, electricity, crime and security, and agriculture. And water supply was the top problem identified in water-poor countries like Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger.
On average, a majority (55%) of citizens rated their government’s performance in handling water and sanitation services as fairly bad or very bad. These negative appraisals were the majority view in all regions except North Africa, but even there, 46% rated their government’s handling of water and sanitation services as bad.
And public dissatisfaction is increasing. Across the 18 countries that Afrobarometer has tracked over the past decade, negative public ratings of government performance in providing water and sanitation services increased from 41% in 2005/2006 to 55% in 2014/2015. They worsened dramatically in Madagascar, where there was an increase of 47 percentage points in fairly/very bad ratings, followed by Ghana (28-point increase in negative ratings), Senegal (23 points), Botswana (16 points), Mali (15 points) and South Africa (13 points).
These declining performance ratings should be a red flag for democratic governments that are still unable to provide their citizens with these most basic services. Safe and readily available water is a human right and an important contributor to public health. Improved access to safe water and sanitation boosts economic growth, contributes to poverty reduction, and is fundamental to achieving the goals of improved health and education, greater food security, and improved environmental sustainability.
So modest improvements in coverage of water supply and sewerage systems are set alongside significant declines in government performance ratings. Perhaps this seeming incongruity indicates that citizens’ expectations about the quality of infrastructure and services that they should receive (or even demand) from their governments are rising.
Other questions still require further exploration, for example the question of whether progress can best be realised through local control and/or nongovernmental organisations or foreign investment, or whether centralised government investment, management and control of water infrastructure is the better approach.
As this Department is a new department and has the added function of delivering sanitation services, and as South Africa is still in the midst of a water and sanitation crisis, we would have expected the department to have received a greater budget.
Drought conditions continue to ravage our country. Our dams are at critically low levels. Livestock and agricultural produce are suffering. We have had to import millions of tonnes of maize just to ensure sufficient food security levels for our people over the coming months.
Yet we are not being pro-active about maintaining the little water we do have. Alien plants exist in abundance and research advises they consume inordinate amounts of water. We continue to pollute our surface water and the fact that we are even considering ‘fracking’ which could pollute our entire underground water table, is just ludicrous.
Mines are another source of large scale water pollution. We have been warning this government about the dangers of acid mine water for years now, only to be met with ridicule from Ministers and Departments. Well now we have a serious problem and no effective solution to deal with it.
Honourable Chairperson, why is it that we do not maximize and conserve the water we have? Precious water is simply allowed to flow into the sea. Why are we not building more dams?
This Department also has the responsibility of building or funding the building of bulk water reservoirs to assist local municipalities with the storage of water.
Without water business cannot prosper. Water is key in terms of agricultural irrigation which is the leading sector in water usage followed by mining and industry and then human beings. Water is life, yet it is not being prioritized and safeguarded by government.
Greater planning, oversight and accountability will ensure proper service delivery.
The South African government’s Water and Sanitation Department says the release of water from the Katse Dam in Lesotho (pictured above) into the Orange River will bolster the water supply into South Africa and should relieve the impact of the current drought.
Parts of the Eastern Cape’s Joe Gqabi District, including Aliwal North, are in dire straits as a result of the water shortage with district water services manager, Dumisani Luswana, saying all water sources, including the Orange river, are continuing to dry up. At the moment they are re-drilling boreholes in an attempt to find more water.
Meanwhile Margaret-Ann Diedricks, the government’s Water and Sanitation Director General, authorised the release of extra water from the Katse Dam. The flow of the 10 Cumecs (a cumec is the flow of one cubic meter of fluid per second) started the day before Christmas and should reach the abstraction point in Aliwal North by Saturday (2 January) after covering a distance of about 530 kilometres.
Diedricks said while the water is flowing, there is constant monitoring to assist in the decision to either increase or decrease the flow. She told SAnews.gov.za government departments are in the process of alerting communities in the downstream areas to ensure they are not taken by surprise when higher water levels are experienced. “It is important to ensure that no fatalities or destruction of property occur,” said Diedricks.”
Other areas of South Africa is also feeling the impact of the drought with large areas of the Free State’s agricultural areas in desperate need of rain.
South Africa is facing its worst drought since 1982, with more than 2.7 million households facing water shortages across the country, the government has said.
Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for the local government department in KwaZulu-Natal, told Al Jazeera that the drought, concentrated in provinces of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, was beginning to impact the livelihoods and drain the economy.
“The dams are at an all-time low. This is an epic drought and [the] government is doing the best it can do. As you can imagine, it requires a lot of resources, and it’s impacting everyone, rich and poor,” Mabaso said.
The ministry declared the KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces as disaster areas and warned that some 6,500 rural communities across four provinces face water shortages.
South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, has already implemented water restrictions.
On Wednesday, Reuters news agency, quoting an official, said the drought-hit northern Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces would be declared disaster areas for agriculture in the coming days, a claim a spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation would not confirm.
“The provinces of Limpopo and the North-West are currently under observation,” Mlimandlela Ndamase, ministerial spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, said to Al Jazeera.
The government has already allocated $26m to KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to mitigate the impact of the drought that has been blamed on the El Nino weather pattern. El Nino is expected to impact other parts of Southern Africa as well.
Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, told Al Jazeera that summer crops (soybeans, maize, sugarcane) and livestock farming are likely to be hardest hit by the drought, and consumers were likely to see food prices elevated for some time to come.
“The concern now is about the next crop. It’s the optimum time to plant, but it’s still too dry, and with the failure earlier in the year, farmers are under further strain,” Sihlobo said.
Meanwhile, residents of a South African coastal town hard hit by dwindling rainfall said their drinking water was contaminated with sea water.
Citizens of Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal province lined up with buckets for fresh water distributed by officials as the drought increased the salt content of rivers, the South Coast Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Mabaso admitted that a part of the town’s water had been contaminated but said the issue had been blown out of proportion.
“It appears that sea water had encroached the dam that was close to the sea and the water has been contaminated, it affects one community in Port Shepstone, and our scientists are working on it,” Mabaso said.
Earlier in the week, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said in a press release that the South African government was drawing water from neighbouring Lesotho to augment the country’s resources, especially in Gauteng, the economic hub of the country.
“Engagements are under way to allow us to access water from the Zambezi via Zimbabwe to further guarantee supply in the northern parts of our country,” Mokonyane said.
On Monday, it was reported that Rand Water, the country’s main water supplier, might be forced to introduce “water restrictions” in Gauteng province if there was no rainfall soon.
“People have always thought that South Africa is a water secure country. But people need to respect water and use it sparingly. The times have changed,” Mabaso said.
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has welcomed 34 Cuban water experts, who are in the country to share their skills to improve the quality of water.
The arrival of the experts follows a bilateral agreement between South Africa and Cuba in 2014 on cooperation in the fields of water resources management and water supply.
In October 2014, Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister Pam Tshwete went to Cuba on behalf of Minister Mokonyane to ratify the agreement and to appoint the water experts.
The specialists have been contracted to work in South Africa for two years, with the possibility of extending their stay by another year.
The recruited Cuban specialists include civil, electrical, hydraulic and mechanical engineers, and irrigation and drainage specialists.
The recruitment of the engineers also involved the participation of a South African organisation of engineers, which helped the department to identify the specialists.
“The specialists will be deployed at the department’s head office in Pretoria as well as in rural parts of South Africa where there is a shortage of skill. The experts are recruited at a middle management level (deputy director) in terms of the remuneration levels of government, costing the government less than R500 000 per person per annum.”
Speaking at the welcoming ceremony held on Sunday afternoon at Sheraton Hotel, Minister Mokonyane said even though Cuba was a small country, it was a country with a big heart.
“South Africans would not forget the many Cuban soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Angola and Namibia for the sake of the freedom of the Southern African nations. Even though referred to by some historians as the forgotten war, South Africa did not forget and we shall never forget.
“We still cherish the passion that was displayed by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara for their determination to liberate our nations. We also appreciate the fact that Cuban doctors are working with our national Department of Health to improve the quality of life of our people,” Minister Mokonyane said.
She said the Cubans should engage South Africans politically during their stay in SA.
“It’s all about development and the strengthening of relationships between South Africa and Cuba. Some of you will work in far flung rural areas where the nearest town is 70 kilometres from where you live.
“Your passion to serve and the pride to maintain your national identity is inspirational to us. We encourage you to establish new friendships and new relationships because it’s in the nature of human beings to establish relationships wherever they go,” the Minister said
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A new system aimed at improving the competitiveness of South Africa’s mining sector came into effect on Monday, 8 December, the departments of Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs said in a joint statement.
The One Environmental System is aimed at streamlining licensing processes for mining, environmental authorisations and water use.
It represents the “government’s commitment to improve the ease of doing business and further enhance South Africa’s global competitiveness as a mining investment jurisdiction,” the statement said. Under the system, the minister of mineral resources will be responsible for issuing environmental authorisations and waste management licences for mining and related activities.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa will be the appeal authority for these authorisations. The National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Act, known as Nemla 3, is part of a suite of Acts that form the One Environmental System.
While passed in September, it was only implemented from 8 December to ensure all complementary legislation, including certain sections of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Act (MPRDA), were in place.
Permits will now be issued simultaneously by environmental affairs, mineral resources and water and sanitation within a fixed time frame – a maximum of 300 days.
If a decision is appealed, an additional 90 days will be granted to finalise the process. “Until all the legislative amendments have been effected to formalise these timeframes, the timeframes stipulated in [the he National Environmental Management Act] Nema will be applicable,” the statement said.
Until the regulations regarding residue stockpiles and residue deposits as well as the financial provision for rehabilitation regulations are finalised, the MPRDA regulations remain in force.
Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi can now appoint mineral resource inspectors, who will have the same powers as environmental management inspectors to enforce the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act.
The system was first announced by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation address in February.