Maxine du Plessis
World Water Day, a UN initiative, is celebrated on March 22nd every year and focuses on the importance of water. The theme this year was ‘Leaving no one behind’, adapting the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit. This year World Water Day was about tackling the water crisis by addressing the reasons why so many people are being left behind, focusing attention on the importance of water.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 is crystal clear: water for all by 2030. By definition, this means leaving no one behind. But today, billions of people are still living without safe water – their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories, struggling to survive and thrive. Marginalized groups – women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others – are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need.
Government alone cannot address the challenges of South Africa’s current water crisis. This is the message from WWF during National Water Week (18 to 22 March) which culminated on Friday with World Water Day under the UN-theme of “Leaving no-one behind”.
There are still 3 million South Africans without access to treated drinking water within 200m of their house, and 14 million without decent sanitation. This results in a burden on women and children in particular, as they have to carry water for long distances to use at home, and increases the risk of disease without safe sanitation. Young girls and women are paying the heaviest price in terms of lost opportunities to health and wealth as a result of a lack of these services.
South Africa is a naturally water scarce country, with only 490mm annual rainfall on average which is less than half the global average. Our rainfall is also concentrated in water source areas, the high mountains that form the headwaters for our major river systems.
Yet, each year we are losing the equivalent of three Theewaterskloof dams filled to capacity to alien invasive vegetation. These plants not only suck up precious freshwater but also destroy the natural systems that keep our rivers healthy. Other threats to our water security include failing engineered infrastructure, inadequate wastewater treatment, poorly managed mining, forestry and agricultural activities. In addition, drought and climate uncertainty have already seen many South African towns and cities face severe water stress, which is being exacerbated by power cuts.
To ensure a secure water supply for all citizens and to keep the economy going, we need to manage and maintain all aspects of our water value chain properly. This includes reducing leaks from our reticulation infrastructure, ensuring wastewater treatment works are functional, and looking after the source of our water – the natural environment in our strategic water source areas.
Water conference in May
Water also remains one of the key topics and discussion points at the annual African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa in Cape Town, where from 14-16 May, the conference will bring together experts from public and private sectors to support municipalities as they become more responsive and efficient in their water practices.
Information from UNWater.org and Pressportal.