Engineers speak out on water crisis

Concerns over a water crisis in South Africa have reached an all-time high, the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) said on Wednesday.

“Recent events in South Africa indicate that the national government is very concerned about the water situation,” the SAICE said in a statement.

It said it had, in conjunction with the Water Institute of Southern Africa (Wisa), presented a joint submission to the parliamentary portfolio committee on water and forestry.

The submission was intended to lend weight to the grave concerns from diverse quarters that the water situation was a national crisis of the first rank.

“SAICE and Wisa together represent most of the professional water engineers and water scientists in South Africa.

“These organisations took the unusual step of preparing a joint submission because they recognised the crucial strategic importance of water in our country,” said SAICE.

The submission was presented to the committee in Cape Town on October 22 2008.

In the submission, the bodies said increasing water scarcity created enormous challenges in equitably allocating it as a precious resource to competing sectors.

“Provision has to be made to sustain essential economic growth both for present and future generations,” the submission read.

However, provisions also needed to be made in securing basic human needs, meeting international obligations and protecting the resource and the fragile environment that it supported.

This called for integrated management and implementation of the highest order.

The bodies said the 1998 National Water Act (NWA) provided a comprehensive legislative platform for achieving these ends.

However, a number of far-reaching concerns had arisen regarding the implementation of the Act and the capacity of the organisations charged with the task.

While SAICE and Wisa understood that the purpose of the portfolio committee in asking for submissions was to review the legislation to ascertain implementation, challenges and possible areas of improvement to the Act, it was in their view of “deep and urgent concerns” to focus on two aspects.

These were implementation and challenges, rather than on what would be mostly cosmetic changes to the legislation itself.

Some of the concerns raised were water quality, ageing infrastructure, capacity and skills.

These issues could be exacerbated by new challenges such as climate change.—Sapa

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