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South Africa has to focus on water quality

FOCUSING on the amount of water available to South Africans for drinking and making money, instead of its quality, was “mind-bogglingly silly”, a water expert said yesterday.

World economic forum, water scarcity

World Economic Forum, Cape Town

Independent water consultant Bill Harding said partnerships that focused on boosting SA’s water supply rather than the quality of water available to South Africans, particularly in the rural areas, were misguided because poor quality was part of SA’s water shortage problem.

His comments were made as Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa declared a new partnership with the global public-private network, the Water Resources Group, at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town.

The partnership, announced by Ms Molewa and Water Resources Group chairman Peter Brabeck- Letmathe, will identify how to manage SA’s future water needs at least cost and help the Department of Water Affairs to develop strategies and pilot projects to conserve water and manage demand, and increase water treatment and reuse.

SA joins Jordan, Mexico and India’s Karnataka state as a partner of the group. The partnership would help the department develop strategies related to increased water use efficiency and increasing desalination and the reuse of effluent by identifying a “pipeline” of potential projects, best practices and challenges and recommending a strategy.

World Economic Forum spokeswoman Desiree Mohindra said SA was a water-restricted country, and demand was expected to rise by 52% over the next 30 years. The supply of water in SA was likely to decline if leakage from old and poorly maintained municipal infrastructure and wetland loss persisted.

Poor quality water “was of limited use and added to society’s economic burden through treatment costs and secondary impacts” on the economy, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research said in its recent report on water in SA. SA’s National Water Resource Strategy called for “appropriate and timely corrective measures” to mitigate the effects of industrialisation and urbanisation on SA’s water resources, it said.

In 2005, 95% of SA’s freshwater resources had already been allocated. SA’s average annual rainfall, at 450mm, was less than half the global average (850mm) and 10 of the water management areas in SA could not fulfill demand in 2000, the report said.

The forum’s head of environmental initiatives, Dominic Waughray , said the partnership was “significant” as it would give SA access to “best-practice economics, projects and policy ideas in water management from public, private and civil society sectors around the world “.

Source: Business Day

Quite simply put South Africa does not have enough fresh water to supply all it’s inhabitants with the current standard of potable water. The option to compromise on quality my be one of the few methods that would allow all South Africans to enjoy the luxury of clean water.

To put South Africa’s water quality in context let us have a look at the number of bacteria in milk and then in water. Fresh milk contains more than 100,000 bacteria per millilitre, while potable water closer to 50 bacteria per millilitre. The challenge is that we’re happy drinking milk with 2000 time more bacteria in it than tap water, while less than 3% of tap water is used for drinking and preparing food.

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