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Firm interventions are needed to avoid a water crisis
16 September 2014

Pretoria, South Africa – South Africa is facing a water crisis and the government’s current plans to address it are not sufficient. This is according to the latest paper of the African Futures project released on 18 September at a seminar in Pretoria.

The paper Parched Prospects: The Emerging Water Crisis in South Africa by ISS consultant Steve Hedden and ISS Executive Director Dr Jakkie Cilliers, argues that South Africa is already over-exploiting its freshwater resources on a national level and that water demand is growing faster than reliable supply. ‘This means that over-exploitation will only increase in the future’ said Cilliers at the seminar.

The African Futures project at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is a partnership between the ISS and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver. The International Futures (IFs) forecasting software from the Pardee Center is used to model and provide a forecast for water supply and demand out to 2035 for the agriculture, industrial and municipal sectors.

‘Our forecasts show that the current worrying gap between supply and demand will increase throughout the time horizon, even with the policy interventions currently proposed in the latest National Water Resource Strategy’, said Cilliers. The strategy was released by the Department of Water Affairs in 2013.

The analysis shows that over-exploitation of water resources will be a constraint on the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP), limit growth, and leave South Africa vulnerable to shocks in the water system like droughts.

Four pillars of action are needed to ensure a water secure future for South Africa according to Dhesigen Naidoo, Chief Executive Officer of the Water Research Commission who also spoke at the seminar. ‘These pillars are a strong science, technology and innovation knowledge base to provide sustainable solutions; good water infrastructure; excellent human capital to manage our water systems, and a massive correction in our wasteful water behaviours – both at personal and corporate levels’.

The authors of the African Futures paper argue for aggressive interventions, especially in demand management. Only in this way will South Africa be able to reconcile water demand with reliable supply. Cilliers presented the ‘Closing the Gap’ scenario that outlines the increases in supply and decreases in demand that will be required to achieve this goal.

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