South Africa

Water shortages pose existential threat to South Africa

Water shortages in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, pose an existential threat to the country’s economy and will result in severe job losses if the situation is not adequately addressed. 

This is feedback from a water scientist at the University of the Free State, Professor Anthony Turton, who told Newzroom Afrika that ongoing shortages in Gauteng pose a significant threat to the country’s economy. 

“Water shortages are part of a new trend where we can see that our infrastructure is not in healthy shape at all, and politicians are only waking up now,” Turton said. 

“In the case of Gauteng, it is a very specific issue because three major metros contain a significant portion of our national manufacturing capacity. They are all at risk from water supply disruptions.”

“This comes from the fact that Rand Water is unable to keep up with demand because it cannot supply more water to Gauteng as half of the water it puts into the system is lost to leakages,” Turton explained. 

This puts Gauteng and, in particular, Johannesburg in a precarious position as Rand Water has been unable to fill up its storage capacity. 

Turton warned this would result in the province reaching a ‘threshold of concern’, which, once crossed, will put the system at serious risk of collapse and would be unprecedented. 

“I want to emphasise that Gauteng, with three major metros supplied by Rand Water, probably contains the majority of South African manufacturing, so the number of people employed is very high.”

“Of course, when water supply is disrupted, businesses cannot operate. It means that there will also be an impact on the workforce,” he said. 

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

“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. 

The long-term risk is a national sewage crisis from large amounts of untreated wastewater entering water sources. 

However, “the immediate short-term risk now is the potential failure of certain municipalities,” Turton said. 

“When I say failure, I mean the realistic chance that those municipalities cannot self-correct and deliver services.” 

Two municipalities, according to Turton, are close to failure, with one having probably failed already. 

“I refer here initially to eThekwini, which is probably the first metro in South Africa to have failed and been unable to self-correct.”

“The next one that is very likely to go this route is Johannesburg. It does not help that the mayor makes statements that are factually incorrect. Things are now becoming very unstable and tense.”


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