Silver lining in Cape Town's drought

Moves to save water and boost supply by Cape Town businesses would help in the future, Cape Chamber of Commerce president Janine Myburgh said this week.

“The important thing is that all the planning and investment will put Cape Town and its businesses in a much stronger position to deal with the effects of climate change. It has been a strong wake-up call for civic and government authorities and that is a good thing,” she said.

Western Cape agriculture has suffered losses estimated at R14 billion, according to Agri Western Cape. There may be more to come as many farmers have cut back on planting, she said.

Many businesses have made big investments to secure water supply.

Fishing group Oceana is spending R20 million on two desalination plants at St Helena Bay and Laaiplek to meet their water needs and save 2 000 jobs.

Tsogo Sun is building a desalination unit.

“We have little doubt that others will follow. Many firms have spent a great deal of money on grey water systems, rain water harvesting, boreholes and equipment to reduce water use,” Myburgh said.

“So we have a situation where jobs are being lost, but other jobs are being created in the provision of alternative water supplies and saving.”

The businesses hardest hit by the drought are gardening services, hotels and guesthouses.

Federated Hospitality Association of SA Cape chairperson Jeff Rosenberg said his organisation’s members – hotels, guesthouses and restaurants – have reported a decline in bookings due to negative reports about the water crisis.

“Tourism is a key economic driver in this province and contributes to job creation, with around 300 000 people being employed. The hospitality industry alone contributes close to R40 billion a year to the Western Cape economy, which we simply cannot afford to lose,” Rosenberg said.

According to a survey the chamber conducted at the end of last month, almost 80% of the 610 members that responded see the drought as a threat to their business.

About 28% of 575 members that responded halted or postponed investments due to the water crisis.

The V&A Waterfront is a major tourist attraction for the city. Its CEO David Green said: “The biggest impact we have seen is the change in behaviour with regard to water consumption. We have implemented stringent measures to save water ourselves (we have cut water use on the property by 53% since 2010, despite the property growing by 20% over this time).

“To date, the only evidence has been fewer visitors from up country (local) over the season, resulting in a marginal drop in trading. International tourism numbers have remained strong and we have yet to experience an impact.”

Green said the V&A Waterfront is making use of borehole water, reusing grey water and is going to commission its own desalination plant, which is set to produce potable water by next year.

It will produce 3 million litres per day and will cost R170 million.

The V&A Waterfront has allocated part of its land to the City of Cape Town to install a temporary desalination plant, which is under construction and should be operating by the end of March.

Julie-May Ellingson, Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) CEO, said that only one contracted conference, scheduled for March, had been postponed.

“The drought has not restricted our marketing and sales efforts. The CTICC has thus far secured 58 international conferences up until 2023,” Ellingson added.

Chamber of commerce members say:

  •  “Construction companies now have to provide their own non-potable water for building, thus increasing capital outlay. Some projects have been put on hold.”
  • “I may have to move my freelance business to Joburg or out of the country. I don’t heavily rely on water, but it is still a huge factor seeing that it will affect my own customer base.”
  •  “We have already experienced cancellations due to the water crisis.”
  •   “As loss adjusters, there will be additional claims from supply cuts.”
  • “If it is not solved my business will collapse.”
  • “Scarce skills don’t want to relocate to Cape Town.”
  •   “I operate a food plant. It’s dependent on water, on which approximately 2 000 jobs depend.”
  • “Twofold, as the business is manufacturing medicines, so it needs water to function. Secondly, if our staff can’t get water and have to spend long hours queuing when they should be at work, it will cripple our business.”
  • "We develop hardware and software, which collects data from water-related sensors, displays it and can actuate pumps and valves. So we see this crisis as an opportunity.”
  • “An increasing number of clients are likely to delay capex until they have invested in their water security.”
  • “A lot of restaurants could be affected and might close down due to the unhygienic factor of not being able to wash dishes etc. We invest more since we are in the water reclamation and reuse business.”
  • “I have spent R160 000 on water-saving mechanisms. This money could have been used to create four jobs.”
  • “The water crisis will result in greater self-sufficiency and future loss of revenue for the municipalities once again. This is similar to the Eskom debacle and the continued resultant reduction in annual sales volumes.”
  • “If anyone can sell at a good price, I would advise them to do so and get the hell out of Cape Town. We fought through the electricity shortage and the gas shortage. Now we have tried and have lost too much to fight through the water crisis. Government negligence is destroying us.”

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