South Africa

Social unrest looms from water shortages

Ongoing water shortages in many regions of South Africa will result in social unrest as they risk destabilising the country’s economy, which cannot function without an adequate water supply. 

This is feedback from water scientist Dr Anthony Turton, who told Newzroom Afrika that the current water shortages are a national crisis that will have severe economic consequences. 

Turton said South Africa has enough water to comfortably supply the population and businesses. 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. 

An estimated 50% of the water from bulk water suppliers in South Africa does not reach the end consumer due to leakages, theft, and failing infrastructure. 

“It is not a water scarcity issue. It is an institutional failure issue,” Turton said. 

Emblematic of the collapse of the country’s water infrastructure is that 90% of its wastewater works are dysfunctional to some extent. 

This is the main contributor to 46% of South Africa’s water being unsafe to drink, as its water system is based on the principle of indirect reuse. 

“Is it a crisis? Well, I work a lot with the commercial world, and I am telling them that we are deep in crisis and have been since 2002,” Turton said. 

“To lull your senses with the false belief that the crisis is still looming is incorrect.”

Turton said the crisis extends beyond water, as the resource is foundational for any economy to function. 

“You must appreciate the fact that water is the foundation of your national economy. It is the foundation of social stability,” he said. 

“Once your water infrastructure starts collapsing, you start to see things like social instability, the flight of capital out of the country, businesses collapsing, and the loss of jobs.” 

“This is a national crisis. It is an existential threat to the very viability of our national economy,” Turton said. 

He urged the private sector to work with the government in addressing this crisis, as it is entirely fixable if corrective action is taken swiftly – starting with the end of cadre deployment. 

“I think we would have to start off firstly with technically competent people that are not politically connected being employed. That is the most important thing,” Turton said when asked how to solve the crisis. 

“This whole idea of cadre deployment in the water sector, as far as I am concerned, has brought us to this point where we are today.”


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