SA water demand 'will exceed supply by 2025'

The country’s water demand will exceed supply by 2025, Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) said on Thursday.

“Of concern are the metropolitan areas such as the Witwatersrand, where shortages are expected as soon as 2013,” CESA president Zulch Lötter said in Johannesburg.

He said due to rapid urbanisation and infrastructure constraints, intervention was required to prevent serious water shortages by 2019.

“The Department of Water Affairs is and has been trying hard to encourage local authorities to reduce the level of unaccounted-for water from a national average of 30% to more acceptable levels of between 10% and 15%, which will reduce the demand significantly.”

Lötter said water quality was deteriorating and interventions were required to build, maintain and upgrade infrastructure and to improve staff skills.

“The potential to impact negatively on the health of individuals and our natural environment requires close attention to be paid to the management of our water and sanitation systems.

“Even the future of river sport—for example the Dusi canoe marathon—is under threat.”

A comprehensive set of measures was needed to strengthen the management systems for water services in municipalities.

“These require concerted and coordinated action from all spheres, and the support of a wide range of role players that goes beyond government to include ordinary people, organised business and professional-sector bodies,” he said.

‘Major asset could be lost’
Turning to transportation, Lötter said South Africa was fortunate to have a well-maintained national road network.

“During the last few years substantial investment has been made to further upgrade our national freeway system, and a very important start has been made with investment in public transport facilities such as the Gautrain and BRT [bus rapid transit].”

However, provincial roads and municipal roads were a problem.

“Unless drastic action is taken, a major asset could be lost—and it takes R175 000 per kilometre to resurface a road, but to rebuild a road it costs R3-million per kilometre.”

Lötter said CESA remained concerned by financial resources.

“According to the government’s budget, very substantial capital investment is earmarked for infrastructure development and maintenance.

“However, due to the increasing budget deficit uncertainty exists about the government’s ability to achieve its targets.”

Lötter said the only way government would be able to maintain its targeted infrastructure spend would be via additional public debt.

The government was under-geared so it was possible for it to raise its borrowing substantially.

“It is vital that the government shows credible control with its effective management of infrastructure investment and any signs of inefficiency or corruption will begin to undermine the ability of the National Treasury to borrow, leading to public spend on infrastructure beyond 2010 running into serious risk.”

Urbanisation rates
Lötter said urbanisation growth rates in Africa were the highest in the world.

“Even though South Africa counts among the top three urbanised countries in Africa, the Institute for Futures Research estimates that its urban population will grow by 50% from its current 30-million to 45-million by 2050.”

Lötter said CESA was concerned about South Africa’s lack of technical management capacity—particularly in municipal and provincial government spheres—which could become a significant stumbling block to sustainable development.

He said that in 1980, 40% of professional engineers worked in the public sector.

However, this percentage had dropped to 15% by 2005.—Sapa

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