Only 2,5% of the world’s water is not salty, and two thirds of that is locked up in icecaps and glaciers. Humans have available less than 0.8% of all the earth’s water. Yet over the next 10 years our use is estimated to increase by about 40%. We use about 70% of that water in agriculture, but the World Water Council believes that by 2020, we shall need 17% more water than is available in order to feed the world. One person in five has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation.
In Africa, the situation is dire and international organizations have set themselves up in countries to show people how to conserve and purify water. South Africa, once a country with first world water technology and an admirable record of water conservation, husbanding and the prudent use of water in a land with no perennial rivers and a less than average annual rainfall, we are now descending to third world status insofar as water management is concerned. Somebody once said that you cannot monitor what you don’t understand. If the chemical treatment of water and the technological maintenance of water infrastructure in a modern society is not part of your culture – and it is not inherent in African cultures – then the result is what we are seeing now in South Africa: the gradual and sometimes dramatic decline in our water supply and purity. Africa’s water situation in 2009 is in many instances worse than forty years ago – newspapers and television regularly show the sewage in streets, the broken water pipes, the filthy creeks and rivers and the inevitable trek by women with plastic cans on their heads walking hours to fetch water every day. It is not unrealistic to ask – is this where South Africa is headed?
Droughts for example have always been with us, as have intermittent floods. The NGO National Taxpayers Union has set up a committee to prevent the further deterioration of SA’s water supply. This action is symptomatic of where we have come – huge salaries are paid to government ministers who are incapable of doing what is expected of them, and citizens’ groups have been forced to take up the slack.
The sudden canceling by officials some months ago by the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) of a speech on South Africa’s water problems by water expert Dr. Anthony Turton brought the subject of water pollution to the attention of South Africa’s media. This is typical government denialism – say it isn’t so, or don’t let anyone else say it isn’t so, and the problem will go away!
Reports of pollution, infrastructure mismanagement and neglect are numerous and regular, and they come from all corners of South Africa. As in so many other areas of government, priorities are skewed. Democracy celebrations, new cars, name changes, trips overseas, overt theft, nepotism and downright incompetence have taken their toll over the past fifteen years, and the water situation is not an exception. Maintenance is virtually non-existent, as if the country will keep chugging along forever.
Cholera has been found in the Jukskei River near Sandton in Gauteng – the Zimbabwe cholera nightmare is just over our border. This situation is the result of people who do not understand water sustainability being given portfolios for which they are hopelessly unqualified. Tragically, ignorance is compounded by arrogance, a toxic cocktail. The future availability of clean water in South Africa could be the price we pay for this folly.
Source: South Africa Bulletin from the headquarters of TAU SA in Pretoria