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Government alone cannot address the challenges of South Africa’s current water crisis.
This is the message from WWF during National Water Week (18 to 22 March) which culminates on Friday with World Water Day under the UN-theme of “Leaving no-one behind”.
Under its freshwater programme, WWF-SA is mobilising Water Source Partnerships to bring together communities, corporations, government, and non-profit organisations to tackle the water challenges facing South Africa.
There are still 3 million South Africans without access to treated drinking water within 200m of their house, and 14 million without decent sanitation. This results in a burden on women and children in particular, as they have to carry water for long distances to use at home, and increases the risk of disease without safe sanitation. Young girls and women are paying the heaviest price in terms of lost opportunities to health and wealth as a result of a lack of these services.
South Africa is a naturally water scarce country, with only 490mm annual rainfall on average which is less than half the global average. Our rainfall is also concentrated in water source areas, the high mountains that form the headwaters for our major river systems.
Yet, each year we are losing the equivalent of three Theewaterskloof dams filled to capacity to alien invasive vegetation. These plants not only suck up precious freshwater but also destroy the natural systems that keep our rivers healthy.
Other threats to our water security include failing engineered infrastructure, inadequate waste water treatment, poorly managed mining, forestry and agricultural activities. In addition drought and climate uncertainty have already seen many South African towns and cities face severe water stress, which is being exacerbated by power cuts.
To ensure a secure water supply for all citizens and to keep the economy going, we need to manage and maintain all aspects of our water value chain properly. This includes reducing leaks from our reticulation infrastructure, ensuring waste water treatment works are functional, and looking after the source of our water – the natural environment in our strategic water source areas.
Effective Water Source Partnerships are a safety net that can work towards environmental recovery in our water source areas and generate sustainable jobs. They:
Enable co-ordinated governance and effective action on the ground to improve the resilience of water source areas Create opportunities for communities in water source areas as well as shared benefits downstream And, stop degradation of land and water resources in the water source areas and ensure compatible sustainable development.
Says Christine Colvin, head of WWF-SA’s Freshwater Programmes: “We have already seen how partnerships between water users’ associations, the private sector and ourselves have started to reap rewards in areas like the Boland, the Outeniqua and the Eastern Cape.
“This is why we believe the way forward in all of our 22 strategic water source areas is to work towards more effective Water Source Partnerships to tackle the multitude of challenges all along the water value chain. Only 10% of the land in South Africa generates half of the freshwater run-off into our rivers. The need to secure these areas should be a national priority – not only for households and the wellbeing of our citizens but for the economy as a whole.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).