In a world where the demand for water continues to grow and the resource is finite, a new United Nations report argues that wastewater, discarded into the environment every day, once treated, can help meet the needs for freshwater as well as for raw materials for energy and agriculture.
Needless to mention, treating wastewater and removing pollutants can also remarkably reduce the impact on the environment as well as on health.
“Improved wastewater management is as much about reducing pollution at the source, as removing contaminants from wastewater flows, reusing reclaimed water and recovering useful by-products [as it is about increasing] social acceptance of the use of wastewater,” noted Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General in her foreword to the World Water Development Report 2017 – Wastewater: An untapped resource.
The report, launched today in Durban, South Africa, on the occasion of World Water Day, also highlights that improved management of wastewater is essential in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“It’s all about carefully managing and recycling the water that runs through our homes, factories, farms and cities,” said Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Chair of UN-Water, urging for reducing and safely reusing more wastewater.
“Everyone can do their bit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030.”
Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) has specific targets on halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally (target 6.3) as well as supporting countries in wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies (target 6.a).
Health and environmental dimension – particularly stark for low-income countries
The report also revealed that low-income countries are particularly impacted by the release of waste water into the environment without being either treated or collected, where, on average, only 8 per cent of domestic and industrial wastewater is treated, compared to 70 per cent in high-income countries.
As a result, in many regions of the world, water contaminated by bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and solvents is discharged into rivers and lakes ending up in the oceans, with negative consequences for the environment and public health.
For instance, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, pollution from pathogens from human and animal excreta affects almost one third of rivers, endangering the lives of millions of people.
Furthermore, growing awareness on the presence of hormones, antibiotics, steroids and endocrine disruptors in wastewater poses a new set of complexities as their impact on the environment and health have yet to be fully understood.
These set of challenges underscore the need for urgent action on collection, treatment and safe use of wastewater.
Wastewater as a source of raw materials
In addition to providing a safe alternative source for freshwater, wastewater is also a potential source of raw materials, noted the report.
Owing to developments in treatment techniques, certain nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrates, can now be recovered from sewage and sludge and turned into fertilizer. It is estimated that nearly 22 per cent of the global demand for phosphorus (a depleting mineral resource) can be met by treating human urine and excrement.
Use of treated wastewater has long been practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years
Similarly, organic substances contained in wastewater can be used to produce biogas, which could power wastewater treatment facilities as well as contribute to energy needs of local communities.
In addition, use of treated wastewater is growing for agricultural irrigation. At least 50 countries around the globe are now using treated wastewater for this purpose, accounting for an estimated 10 per cent of all irrigated land.
Lastly, the report also mentioned that treated wastewater can augment drinking water supplies, although this is still a marginal practice. Cities such as Singapore, San Diego (United States), and Windhoek (Namibia) have been treating wastewater to supplement drinking water reserves.
A great example is use of treated wastewater, long practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years.
HILTON Hotels is planning to pour more money into South Africa as competition hots up for the continent’s tourism riches.
For a start, the US group plans to convert the independent hotels it controls in South Africa into Garden Inn hotels, according to Patrick Fitzgibbon, vice-president of development for Europe and Africa.
The plan follows signs that a tourism boom is taking shape in South Africa, helped by the rand’s fall against the dollar.
Grant Thornton’s latest Tourism Business Index showed an increase in tourist spending in the fourth quarter of last year – despite the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which prompted some tourists to cancel their trips to the continent.
Fitzgibbon was in South Africa to meet a team developing a new Garden Inn in the Namibian capital Windhoek.
Hilton’s announcement comes three months after Hard Rock International, which owns the Hard Rock Cafe, said it planned to build a hotel in South Africa. Group president and CEO Hamish Dodds said South Africa was a “really logical” place to launch its hotel.
Fitzgibbon said he was not surprised by his rival’s plans, given that Africa had “massive opportunities” in tourism.
The landmark Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, which has hosted celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama, was bought by the Four Seasons group and its 117 rooms overhauled.
The new-look Westcliff opened for business late last year, but reviews after the R200-million makeover have been mixed, specifically of the one restaurant currently open. A further four restaurants will be opened this quarter.
Perhaps scarred by this poor reception, hotel management did not respond to interview requests this week.
Other hotel groups that want to increase their foothold on the continent include Marriott International, which bought the Protea Hospitality Group for R2-billion last year.
But South African hotel groups are not taking the challenge lying down.
Tsogo Sun, which is controlled by HCI, spent R220-million renovating two key Durban beachfront hotels and has invested R100-million in refurbishing its Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel and building a new hotel, 177 Empire Place, in Sandton.
Other developments announced include the Radisson Blu Le Vendome Hotel Cape Town, the Thaba Moshate Hotel in Burgersfort and upgrades to Emperors Palace in Kempton Park and the Mmabatho Palms Hotel in Mahikeng.
Hilton has 37 hotels in Africa and plans to build 29 in the next few years.
A three-year upgrade has just started on the Hilton in Durban, a welcome sign of new investment after some volatile years following the 2010 soccer World Cup, which didn’t provide the sort of tourism riches that many had expected.
Tourism revenue grew more than 10% in 2010, but fell more than 18% in 2011, according to a report by PwC.
In 2012, it clawed back some of this ground, growing 12%.
The PwC report said that by 2018, there will be an estimated 63 600 hotel rooms available — up from 60 900 in 2013.
In the report, Nikki Forster, PwC leader of hospitality and gaming, also said capacity was growing faster than room supply, so the occupancy rate for hotels would rise to a projected 71.1% in 2018 from 58.9% in 2013. The average rate will climb to R1265 in 2018, a 6.2% compound annual increase from R935 in 2013.
Hotel room revenue is expected to climb to R20.9-billion in 2018, up 11.2% compounded annually from R12.2-billion in 2013.
Fitzgibbon said South Africa was the most competitive region on the continent.
Its faltering economic growth is not worrying him. He said Hilton was in the business of investing long term, so recent economic woes did not deter the group.
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