Managing Water Resources in Developing Countries: South Africa As An Example for Policy And Regulation - page 02


In order to understand the South African experience it is important to have an understanding of the national policy context. The backdrop to all political and development activity is the new Constitution arrived at through a negotiated settlement and a Constitutional Assembly of elected persons developing the New Constitution (Carter and Howsam, 2004). In the water sector, the introduction of a Bill of Basic Human Rights in the Constitution both demanded and provided a mandate for far-reaching policy change. Numerous sections on equality, human dignity, the rights of children, and, in Section 29, "the right of every person to an environment which is not detrimental to his or her health or well being", required a move away from pre-1994 policies.

The broad policy framework of the new government adopted a new paradigm based on the belief that growth is dependent upon equity; that economic stability and investment confidence are not possible in the midst of poverty and its associated anguish, crime and social disorder; and that infrastructure development is in itself the creation of real assets and constitutes growth.

Historical Background

South Africa is a semi-arid country with unevenly distributed rainfall (43% of the rain falls on 13% of the land), and with high annual variability and unpredictability (Figure 1). On average, only about 9% of the rainfall reaches the rivers, a small proportion compared to many other parts of the world. The total annual runoff from all rivers averages about 50150 million cubic metres. Because of flow variability and high evaporation, only about 33000 million cubic metres each year can be exploited economically using present methods. South Africa's major dams - there are more than 500 - have a combined storage capacity of more than half of the mean annual runoff. Virtually all the runoff from the interior plateau is commanded by large dams, and the undeveloped water resources lie mainly along the east coast. Remaining sites for large storage dams are less than ideal (DBSA, 2006).

In addition to surface water resources, about 5400 million cubic metres per year are obtainable on a sustainable basis from groundwater, which is distributed in a multitude of relatively small aquifer systems, often with low yields and of poor quality.

South Africa's general water situation compares relatively unfavourably with other countries in the world (UNESCO, 1999). Indicators compiled from an international study (Population Action International, 1993) categorise water availability for all purposes in terms of total annual renewable surface water per head of total population.

The categories are as follows:

Benchmark:  m3/person/year
> 1 700      Will suffer only occasional or local water problems
1 000 - 1 700 Periodic or regular water stress
500 - 1 000 Chronic water scarcity: lack of water begins to hamper economic development, and human health and welfare
< 500 Absolute scarcity