South Africa

Day Zero warning for Gauteng 

Gauteng’s water supply is under immense pressure due to low rainfall, ageing infrastructure, and mismanagement, which have compounded the effect of the province’s strong population growth. 

This is feedback from a BDO director, Anita Calitz, and senior audit manager, Adele Botes, who outlined Gauteng’s water infrastructure deterioration and potential solutions. 

Calitz and Botes said the water supply in Gauteng is at a critical juncture, and without immediate interventions, the province will experience significant water shortages. 

The water crisis gripping Gauteng is a stark reminder of South Africa’s challenges in ensuring sustainable water supply amidst growing demand and infrastructural decay. 

The current state of Gauteng’s water infrastructure is dire. Leaking pipes, insufficient reservoirs, and delayed infrastructure projects are exacerbating the situation. 

Maintenance has been woefully inadequate, leading to a range of problems – increased water losses, reduced capacity, and, ultimately, insufficient water supply to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population.

It is estimated that around 44% of water in Gauteng is ‘lost’ in distribution from bulk water supply to the end user. 

Population growth in central Gauteng has outpaced the capacity of existing water infrastructure. As more people migrate to the area, the strain on water resources intensifies, leading to more frequent shortages and lower water pressure in many communities.

In addition, the misallocation of funds intended for infrastructure development has crippled the ability of municipalities to respond effectively. 

Too much of the budget has been diverted to other areas, such as salaries, instead of upgrading and maintaining essential water systems. This mismanagement leaves us ill-prepared to tackle the crisis head-on. 

These issues are exacerbated by problems such as water pollution, theft, vandalism of water infrastructure, and our ongoing electricity supply problems. 

In March 2024, the Eikenhof pump station, which supplies 50% of Johannesburg’s water, could not operate during power outages, causing significant disruptions. 

Alongside this, municipalities are struggling with debt, particularly to Rand Water, which hampers their ability to maintain and upgrade water systems.

If the current trajectory is sustained, the next two to ten years could see even more severe water shortages. 

The risk of ‘Day Zero’ becomes more real with each passing day, as do the prospects of increased water restrictions and compromised water quality. 

‘Water-shedding’ may soon become a common term, much like load-shedding, Calitz and Botes warned. 

The economic implications are profound. Businesses could face operational disruptions, increased costs, and potential revenue losses. 

The agriculture sector, which consumes 70% of the world’s freshwater, could also suffer, leading to food shortages and price hikes. 

A deteriorating water system could also pose a significant health hazard, as water quality may be compromised.

While the government’s task team is a positive step, more decisive and coordinated actions are required. 

Prioritising infrastructure upgrades, water conservation initiatives, and effective management practices at both municipal and national levels is key. Budgets must also be allocated appropriately and utilised efficiently.

To reduce water losses, immediate attention should be given to repairing leaks and maintaining existing infrastructure. Additionally, enhancing security to protect water infrastructure from theft and vandalism will prove essential going forward.

Though delayed, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is a crucial initiative that must be expedited to increase water supply to Rand Water and the broader Gauteng region.


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