Managing Water Resources in Developing Countries: South Africa As An Example for Policy And Regulation - page 03

 

 

South Africa is currently classified into "periodic or regular water stress", however "chronic water scarcity" is forecasted as early as 2025 if current population growth trends continue, and could move towards "absolute scarcity" within the next 50 years. South Africa is in many ways worse off in terms of this indicator than other countries traditionally regarded as arid lands, such as Namibia and Iraq, for example.

During the last two centuries, the primary use of water in South Africa was for agriculture and the focus of governments of the time was on the supply of water for irrigation. Since the 1950s, the demand for water has begun to shift towards the needs of industry distributed in space in areas far from areas where water was readily available. Industry was developing in the areas surrounding Johannesburg, situated in an arid zone, and along the continental divide. As a result, inter-basin transfer schemes, which are amongst the largest in the world, had to be developed. Today, South Africa makes an average transfer of 4106 million m3 of water per year between different basins. Of this amount, more than 30% is transferred into the Vaal River System to meet the demand in the industrial heartland of South Africa around Johannesburg.

Government policy and functions prior to 1994 were exclusively related to water resource management focusing on management of the larger catchments, the administration of government water control areas, the supply of bulk untreated water to water boards (bulk treated water supply utilities), water quality management and the administration of the old Water Act. The Department of Water Affairs did not see itself as responsible for ensuring that citizens had a water supply and had no political mandate for this. The water sector impacts of these policies were extensive and far reaching. Some 12 to 14 million people were without any formal water supplies and 21 million people without formal sanitation services (out of a total population of 41 million) in 1994. Environmental impacts on the water resource base in the country were evident everywhere and included desertification, deforestation, loss of topsoil, diffuse pollution, invasion of alien plant species, reduced groundwater recharge, increased siltation of reservoirs and increased danger of periodic serious flooding.

Figure 1: Precipitation over South Africa, Data Source: Environmental Atlas of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs, Pretoria 2010.

Figure 1: Precipitation over South Africa, Data Source: Environmental Atlas of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs, Pretoria 2010.