Gauteng could be SA's next Day Zero region, agriculture forum hears

Gauteng is the next potential Day Zero region in South Africa if it is hit by another drought, according to Mike Muller, adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance.

Speaking at the Agri SA Water Symposium in Somerset West on Monday, he said a report on what to do to avoid Day Zero in Gauteng was already brought to the attention of authorities in the province a year ago.

Prioritise farming

"The Cape Town water crisis showed agriculture's importance for the regional economy. Society recognised this and was willing to have water allocations for farming to continue, even if it meant expensive new solutions such as water re-use and desalination for urban users," said Muller.

"To make water management institutions work, you must understand your resource, who is using it and how it is being used. The capability to manage water resources in SA has declined. What use is it if you get a licence to use water from a river, but there is no water in the river?"

Muller said the challenges of water management are complicated, and no one size fits all. Therefore, it is important to bring all interested parties together to find solutions.

He also said it was critical to implement legislation designed to safeguard water security. "Government must set out the priorities and then let the stakeholders get on with it," said Muller.

"Yet, the [National] Water Act provides only a road map and you do not get to your destination by just looking at a map. To make the journey you need a driver to get you there."

He would also like to see SA work more closely with other Southern African countries in addressing water challenges.

Anil Singh, deputy director general at the Department of Water and Sanitation, said a big concern is to keep water affordable. However, he said, the principle of the user must pay and the polluter must pay remains.

The quality of water and water infrastructure are two other important issues to address, Singh added.

"We are dealing with the issue of water quality at a national level. There is also an issue of how municipalities deal with water pollution challenges," said Singh.

Rural access

The DWS further highlighted concerns over rural towns without water, saying solutions should come from the public.

"The solutions will come from the people facing the problem. I would like to see what kinds of grassroots solutions are being proposed," said Singh.

"We place much value in Agri SA and other partners to help us look at strategy. We have to fast track the strategy to be responsive to the challenges we face - and the challenges keep on increasing."

Singh emphasised that water services is the responsibility of local governments.

"You cannot take away the responsibility of local governments. We have seen the decline of services and this is a huge concern," said Singh.

"We have a water quality strategy and are looking at implementing it. Poor water quality persists, and the question is who is polluting it? One has to look at local governments and at what the failures are in the system that cause this pollution. We need to more carefully look at how to prevent pollution."  

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