Its National Water Week in South Africa (18-22 March) and World Water Day on 22 March. 2013 has also been declared the United Nations’ International Year of Water Cooperation by the UN’s general assembly.
South Africa’s climate is mostly semi-arid (but it varies from dessert to sub-humid). It experiences an average rainfall of about 450 mm/a, which is almost less than half of the world average of 860 mm/a and the country has a comparatively high rate of evaporation. This means we have a limited amount of fresh water to begin with and pollution, mismanagement and waste causes further scarcity we cannot afford (NWRS, 2004:15).
“South Africa could face a “near crisis situation” with its water supply within the next decade if urgent steps are not taken, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa says.” Times Live article, 28 February 2012. This is worrying news in terms of food security for the country because the agricultural sector uses about 60% of all water resources.
In the National Water Resources Strategy of September 2004 (Chapter 2:39-40) tables show the potential deficit of supply in water for 2025 if no development in water infrastructure is actioned. A base scenario and a high demand scenario show a deficit of 234million m³/annum and 2044 million m³/annum respectively. The tables also show the positive relief of this situation if steps are taken to develop and improve water infrastructure. From the official information available, one is inclined to think that South Africa is facing a water crisis unless immediate action is taken in prevention thereof.
The implications of a shortage of water in South Africa are many:
- our energy sector cannot operate without water (Eskom uses about 330 million m³/annum of water a year and Sasol uses about 120 millionm³/annum) (SAPA, 2012. Eskom, Sasol warn on Vaal water supply)
- our food security will be threatened if supply to agriculture is curbed. Spin off factors such as soil erosion from barren fields may cause increased erosion, siltation and spread of alien vegetation, exacerbating soil infertility and food security, increased food and water prices will hurt our economy
- the mining industry, a major economic contributor (only using 2% of the annual portion) will suffer which will hurt the economy
- tension in impoverished areas may spark due to competition for water, possibly causing political tension (such as those evidenced in the 2012 service delivery strikes in the Western Cape)
- outbreak of disease (e.g. cholera) due to poor water quality, social and economic development will be stunted because greater needs will take preference
Water Week will be focused on education and awareness for the wise use and protection of this precious resource.