Water crisis could have been prevented - expert

Durban – An expert believes the water crisis could have been avoided had the government acted sooner.

University of South Africa (Unisa) geography department lecturer Dr Anja du Plessis, said the drought, caused primarily by the El Nino, was exacerbating the water situation.

"Had we acted soon regarding the building of dams, the situation would have improved the water availability," she said.

The country has been gripped by water shortages showing no signs of abating, prompting the national government to last week declare KwaZulu-Natal a disaster area.

Water affairs and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane this weekend said the drought affected 173 of the 1 628 water supply schemes nationally, serving about 2.7 million households.

Du Plessis said the crisis was two-pronged with the country facing problems of water quality and water availability.

"The mismanagement of resources is affecting the water availability. With water quality, the problem is we have a huge waste water works infrastructure not [being] maintained."

She said the water quality in some areas was so bad water could not be used for consumption.

"[This was happening] in areas where the population had grown and the urban areas are expanding and government hasn't improved waste water works systems. This leads to the pollution of our water source. In Ermelo and Hammanskraal, there have been reports of people who complained about the worms in their water and this affects people’s health."

She said the other problem was that water needed to be treated to bring it to drinking standard.

"The higher your pollution content, the more expensive it will cost to treat the water."

'We need to change our way of thinking'

Du Plessis said around 37% of South Africa’s water was lost in leakages and advised people use water sparingly.

"People need to sweep their driveways instead of hosing them. Also try and water your gardens at night, because of the moisture ... we need to change our way of thinking and behaviour towards water."

Afriforum’s head of environmental affairs Julius Kleynhans agreed with Du Plessis.

"We warned the department of water and sanitation in 2012 there would be a drought and told them they needed to start financial planning and upgrading infrastructure to increase water capacity," he said.

Kleynhans said there was also a shortage of skilled staff at the department.

"There are lots of vacant posts which can be filled with qualified and experienced individuals from the previous regime. There is also a lack of accountability from a municipal level where staff are responsible for the maintenance of infrastructure and operations to clean sewerage water that is being released to water resources.

"This has reached crisis level and to fix all the water-related problems in the country would cost around R680 billion.

"Sadly, this could have been avoided if the regulator had enforced the law," Kleynhans said. 

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