South Africans should prepare for water shortages during the coming festive season, as Rand Water has said it cannot guarantee the provision of water over this period while stressing that this is a countrywide issue.
Rand Water COO Mahlomola Mehlo spoke to Newzroom Afrika following a media briefing where the water utility detailed the extensive challenges it faces.
Mehlo explained that water supply is based upon the resource’s abstraction, purification, and distribution. All three are dependent on electricity.
If the electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, neither can the water supply to all areas.
Rand Water has plans to mitigate the effects of power outages, and its facilities are exempt from load-shedding.
The main problem is its old infrastructure, which is deteriorating and making it increasingly difficult to get water to the end consumer.
Mehlo stressed that this is a countrywide issue and not unique to Rand Water.
“If you consider all the variables at play and those that we have to manage and keep in check, at any given time, one of those variables can fail us,” Mehlo said.
“The incidents of the recent weeks have actually shown us that there are no guarantees in the provision of water, especially during this period. What I can guarantee is every effort is being made to ensure that we do not experience such.”
The areas most likely to be affected will be the high-lying parts of Gauteng as they require boosting stations to pump water up to them, making them more vulnerable to infrastructure failure and reliant on reliable electricity.
In short, there is no water shortage as the country’s dams are full. The issue is the inability to get water from bulk suppliers to the end consumer.
It is estimated that 50% of the water from bulk water suppliers in South Africa does not reach the end consumer due to leakages, theft, and failing infrastructure.
Water scientist Professor Anthony Turton previously said that South Africa has enough water to supply the population and businesses comfortably.
However, the water supply is being mismanaged, resulting in shortages in some parts of the country.
“If we manage our water wisely, we certainly have enough to grow our economy and population. The problem is that we are not managing it wisely,” Turton said.
“It is not a water scarcity issue. It is an institutional failure issue.”
Curiously, it is not a national institutional failure but rather the local failure of municipalities to maintain and upgrade their water infrastructure.
Local municipalities have shown they cannot correct things that have gone wrong despite multiple warnings and signs of failure.
“We can say that places like Johannesburg Water are a perfect example of state failure at a local level.”
Some solutions are on the table, with the private sector likely having to step in to provide funding for infrastructure projects and expertise.
“It is in the great interest of the majority of society to resolve this issue. If we do not get this right, there will be an external correction through legal intervention in the courts or a suspension of the Constitution through some or other kind of popular uprising and extrajudicial means.”
To prevent this in the short term, the government has implemented what it has called ‘water shifting’ to avoid the entire collapse of some local water systems.
“Water shifting is to the water sector as load-shedding is to the energy sector,” Turton said.
“This essentially prevents a local angry mob from taking to the streets and protesting. That is really all it does. It keeps some people happy for some of the time.”