South Africa needs to invest R1 trillion to repair its deteriorating water infrastructure and upgrade it to ensure it can meet the growing demand of the country’s population.
This is feedback from water scientist Dr Anthony Turton, who told the SABC that institutional failure is the root cause of the increased unsafe drinking water in South Africa.
In particular, Johannesburg and its surrounds have been hit by severe water cuts so far in 2023. While water interruptions have been happening for years, they have been scaled up dramatically in recent weeks.
The deteriorating situation recently forced the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, to intervene.
On 27 September, he announced a new initiative called “water-shifting” to deal with the shortages.
When releasing the full Blue Drop, Green Drop, and No-Drop Water report for 2023, Mchunu blamed the increase in the deteriorating water supply on historical challenges of ageing infrastructure.
Turton said that to fix the country’s water infrastructure, the government must engage with private funders as it cannot afford the R1 trillion price tag.
“If you look at the amount of capital needed to fix what is broken, there is no way that the taxpayer can carry that cost,” Turton said.
A national water plan released in 2019 said R900 billion needs to be spent on water supply and storage infrastructure by 2030.
There is capital from the private sector willing to step in, but this would first require adequate governance structures to ensure the money is not stolen or used to fund anything outside of water infrastructure.
“We really are facing a serious crisis in our country. It is not only a water crisis, but it has economic significance as well.”
“I would almost say we are at an inflexion point in our country. The forthcoming elections are going to play a critical role in deciding whether South Africa is going to continue sinking like the Titanic or slowly improve its situation,” Turton said.
The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Department of Water and Sanitation have created a Water Partnership Office to facilitate private investment in water infrastructure.
Its head, Johann Lubbe, told Bloomberg that it may hold bid rounds for projects such as desalination plants and water-reuse projects.
“We are all aware that South Africa is a water-scarce country. We need to start responding,” he said.
Lubbe’s office, which falls under the Department of Water and Sanitation and is operated with the assistance of the DBSA, will help municipalities prepare projects for investment and private participation.
The unit, which was given funding from the National Treasury, will use R4.4 billion ($235 million) from the Green Climate Fund to help create a program of almost R28.4 billion ($1.5 billion) to invest in water-reuse projects.
Lubbe said it has also received money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its non-sewer sanitation activities and talks with other agencies to boost funding.