Tuesday, March 3, 2009

SA unveils strategy to align water capacity with growth aspirations

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) on Monday launched the Water for Growth and Development (WfGD) framework, which would set in motion a course of action to ensure that there was sufficient water to support South Africa’s growth trajectory and development.

Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks stated that sustainable economic growth could only be met by providing sufficient water resources. “At the same time, we need to ensure that we meet the targets for universal access to water. Needless to say, these goals have to be achieved in a way that we do not compromise the ecological sustainability of the resource.”

Speaking at the launch of the WfGD framework, as well as the official launch of the 2009 water week, Hendricks stated that her department would be making some very difficult and bold decisions regarding the way the country harnessed and allocated the available resources, and added that the allocation would differ from past allocations.

“Through the WfGD framework we will pursue a course of action that will ensure that in future, informed decisions and trade-offs with regard to water use are taken, in support of any cross-sectoral planning and development initiatives.”

The framework represented a comprehensive response to the challenges facing the country, while simultaneously responding proactively to the needs of the economy. The framework would set the foundation and create the necessary pointers for the development of the National Water Resource Strategy, which was a legislative requirement, and it would be seen as setting the framework for the development of this strategy.

Hendricks stated that a different mindset was required to embrace the changes needed to ensure water availability and water quality management.

“Owing to technological advances and increasing affordability, we are now able to contemplate innovative water sources such as water desalination and treated effluent for various uses, preserving our high quality water for consumptive use only.”

This is referred to as diversifying the water mix, and it represented a break from the traditional way of ensuring water supply and a step into the realm of multiple water sources, where quantity and quality were aligned to need.

Dwaf would continue to engage extensively and intensively with other sector departments and water sector users on the recommendations outlined in the WfGD framework.

“An outcome of this engagement will be the mainstreaming of water use requirements in critical sectoral planning decisions to effect change in water use behaviour among those who negatively affect our water resources, as well as consultation on the setting of targets per water sector through consensus-seeking approach,” Hendricks added.

Dwaf was also exploring a mix of mechanisms to effect these changes, which included regulatory and market-based instruments, self regulation, awareness, and education.

She further noted that during the past year, there had been several concerns raised from various quarters, regarding South Africa’s current and future water security.

Late last year, former Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scientist Dr Anthony Turton made headlines, after he was forced to withdraw a presentation at a CSIR conference, in which he warned that the country could face serious water challenges unless drastic action was taken. His report was in conflict with government’s assurances that South Africa was not facing a water crisis.

“I have observed that recent media reports about South Africa’s drinking water quality have created panic both from the country’s citizens and our visitors from abroad. Dwaf would like to reassure South Africans that the country’s tap water is safe to drink.”

Hendicks stated, however, that the department acknowledged that the water might, at times, not meet the required technical standards, according to its management system. “Still, this does not mean the water in the country is not safe for human consumption. Regular water quality test are conducted, and on average, 3 000 samples are taken nationwide from water supply systems for this purpose. Our monthly reporting indicates that 98% of all samples taken comply with the health aspects as listed in the South African National Standards.”

Dwaf has now implemented a country-wide system to assist with the overall management of drinking water, and has already started with its incentive-based regulation programme, the Blue Drop Certification programme, with the objective of awarding excellent drinking water quality management, in different towns.

“The department would like to reiterate its commitment to ensuring that all South Africans are served with the highest quality drinking water. Our national standard compares will with the World Health Organisation’s limit. South Africa’s tap water is still ranked as the best in the world because we have water service systems which record similar compliance levels as our counterparts in developed countries.”

Dwaf Minister Lindiwe Hendricks speaks on the new Water for Growth and Development framework, launched today. Cameraperson : Danie de Beer Editing: Darlene Creamer