The urgent need for a water infrastructure investment initiative

The Water Infrastructure Investment Summit held in Sandton, Johannesburg in December 2017 examined ways in which South Africa’s water crisis could be addressed

The Water Infrastructure Investment Summit held in Sandton, Johannesburg in December 2017 examined ways in which South Africa’s water crisis could be addressed

By virtue of its pivotal role in the socioeconomic landscape, the South African water sector is a space that has been dominated by large infrastructure projects and investments. Given the opportunities and challenges that the water sector needs to respond to, it is vital to stimulate a diverse and capable water sector business and investment landscape.

A number of initiatives are underway to respond to understanding the gap in water infrastructure investment.

Part of this process is the need to understand the actual investment gap that exists in the water and sanitation space.

Current estimates over a 10-year period vary from R330-million (if only focusing on new infrastructure needs and investments) to R1-trillion if all infrastructure maintenance, upgrades and planned initiatives are taken into account. Put simply, the only way to cost this clearly is to have a clear plan and set of priorities and an associated investment strategy.

Drawing on the outcomes, recommendations and learnings from research and experience, it is vital to begin plotting a way forward as the next step. Investment decisions and effective risk management play a critical role in developing strategic responses to growing an inclusive economy and decreasing the water investment deficit, thereby ensuring water security and sanitation for all. The recent inclusion of a water chapter in the Industrial Policy Action Plan requires clear planning and leadership.

The challenges to overcome require bold solutions and engagement. The South African Institution of Civil Engineers recently released the 2017 South African Infrastructure Report Card.

When rating the water sector — bulk water resources, supply in major urban areas and supply in other areas — the sector scores between a D- and C+, with no upward trend between 2011 and 2017. When focusing on waste water and sanitation for urban areas South Africa scores a C- and for other areas we score an E, with no upward trend between 2011 and 2017.

Objectives of the summit

In responding to the need for a more co-ordinated national conversation, the primary goal of this summit was to allow for various key stakeholders to come together and have meaningful conversations around the way forward for water and sanitation, in terms of solutions for attracting funding for water infrastructure and other potential investment avenues into the country, as well as identifying ways in which the water crisis in the country can be alleviated. 

The summit aimed to achieve this by enabling the various stakeholders an opportunity to network and start having the conversations that will yield the right outcomes. The event unpacked the key investment opportunities, constraints and solutions in the areas of bulk water infrastructure, municipal water infrastructure, and emerging innovations and solutions.

The objectives of the summit were:

The medium-term objective was to initiate a process that will inform and launch a Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Investment Strategy for South Africa by 2019.

The specific objectives of the summit were to:

  • Clarify constraints and barriers to investments;
  • Solidify existing interventions and plot pathways, process priorities and projects that will inform the Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Investment Strategy; and
  • Be a business and investor water solutions exposure platform.
  • Specific objectives of the follow-up stewardship initiative:
  • Devise a series of follow-up actions to respond to the solutions identified at the summit (focusing on the bulk infrastructure, municipal and innovations sub-themes); and
  • The exact scope of work for the stewardship initiative will be informed by the Water and Infrastructure Investment Summit.