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Water crisis will eclipse Eskom crisis

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 29 November 2010

“The sheer cost of the water crisis will totally eclipse the arms deal, the Eskom crisis and that in many other departments. While we have alternatives for energy, we don’t for water, so the impacts of the water crisis will knock on through all socioeconomic levels.”

Decrease in water quality will have different negative effects on individual economic sectors

That’s the sobering message from Bill Harding, co-founder of DH Environmental Consulting and the previous chairman of the SA Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Scientists.

The water crisis had been in effect in Gauteng for the past 10 to 20 years, with no sign of abating, Harding said.

“There are sub-regional crises in other areas in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and then urban crises in many situations, such as Welkom. The bulk of the problem originates from inadequately treated waste water,” he said.

His comments follow a study conducted by economic research and advisory firm Plus Economics on behalf of trade union United Association of SA.

The study shows that a 1% decline in the quality, and therefore usability, of water in the country could lead to the loss of 200000 jobs and a decline of 5.7% in disposable income per capita, as well as a rise of 5%, or R18.1-billion, in government spending.

Plus Economics chief executive Charlotte du Toit said that the macroeconomic effects of decreased water quality included a rise of 28% in the ratio of government debt to GDP; a decline of R16-billion in household spending; a 1% drop in GDP growth; and a decrease of R9-billion in total fixed investment.

“A decrease in the quality of water will have negative and different effects on the individual economic sectors,” Du Toit said.

“Among our findings are that growth in the electricity, gas and water sectors will decrease by two percentage points, and that as many as 14000 jobs may be lost in the financial services sector.

“The study shows that agricultural output will drop by R570000, mining output will go down by R1.1-million, manufacturing will shrink by R7-million, electricity will decline by R1-million and tourism output will go down by R2.3-million. In addition, financial services, transport and communication as well as community and social services will decline by R4.6-million, R2.3-million and R5.4-million, respectively,” Du Toit added.

This would mean that economic output would shrink by R41.7-million and the compensation of workers by R5.4-million.

Wandile Nomquphu, research manager at the Water Research Commission, said SA must balance industrial development goals with environmental sustainability. “This basically means to carefully look again at the country’s investments in water-thirsty industries in a water-scarce country, integration of land-use planning and water-resource management, investment in water-efficient technologies and industries to ensure food security,” he said.

Anthony Turton, a former researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and specialist in water-resources management, said that reliability of supply was critical.

“For example, Krugersdorp has recently been plunged into a water-supply crisis that has seen water delivery break down for up to five days (with) dire consequences for small local businesses such as restaurants and dry-cleaning shops.”

Turton said the assurance of supply was deteriorating because of a lack of maintenance, improper infrastructure planning and poor repair jobs when breakdowns occurred.

“I have no doubt that water quality is set to deteriorate across the whole country. About one-third of all the water stored in dams is fast becoming unfit for purpose,” Turton said.

He added that the country was already embroiled in the acid mine drainage crisis.

“Government’s denial and attempts to harm the messenger have also created a condition that allows the public to be confused,” Turton said.

Jo Burgess, research manager at the Water Research Commission, said contamination had negative effects on industrial activity. For example, polluted water in the Witbank and Middelburg dams may soon be unfit for use even in electricity generation.

“To circumvent this, water has been pumped from nearby rivers to dilute the effluent. This impacts the availability of water in those rivers for other activities, including agriculture,” said Burgess.

Mao Amis, a manager at the World Wildlife Fund of SA, said: “We should not be alarmist, but let us work towards the problem through business and government or civil society partnership. We seem to be spending too much energy on finger pointing and blame games.”

By: Lucky Biyase
Source: Times Live

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