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World Water Day: African Utility Week to Look at Municipalitiesí Key Water Challenges

Cape Town, South Africa, March 20, 2013 --( On 22 March World Water Day will be celebrated globally. But South Africa has little to celebrate according to Harold Smook, founder of Urban Roots – Sustainable Communities Initiative and registered Professional Engineering Technologist.

“We can celebrate our water policies - the most progressive policies in the world, but when it comes to implementation we have nothing to celebrate,” says Smook who will be speaking about water security aspirations at African Utility Week which is taking place in Cape Town from 14 – 15 May.

Poor performance due to environmental devastation
South Africa was recently 128th out of 132 countries on the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which measures a country’s performance in terms of water, air quality and overall environmental performance. “South Africa’s poor performance is mostly because of the environmental devastation caused by the overexploitation of our limited water supply,” says Smook.

He explains: “Acid mine drainage, water system losses and pollution, lack of holistic approach to water security, poor demand management, unchecked mining activity and our continuous hunger for coal fired power plants has resulted in 84% of South Africa’s 112 unique river ecosystems being classified as threatened and a disturbing 54% critically endangered.”

Water – energy – food
Harold Smook says furthermore that most of South Africa’s water resources have already been allocated and water licences have been expropriated from farmers to provide water for the mining and energy sectors – especially in the Vaal River system. He continues: “the interrelatedness of water, energy and food has to form part of any attempt to improve water security. Once water stressed conditions arise there are significant trade-offs resulting from the water-food-energy nexus. In South Africa the conditions of our natural ecosystems combined with the increase in coal fired power plants and increased mining activities, is an indication that government is focused on economic growth at all costs rather than the basic human needs of the people; water and food security.”

Agriculture biggest water consumer
Smook emphasises that while there are alternative sources of energy there is no replacement for water. “South Africa has an abundance of natural beauty, but if the rivers start dying, ecosystems are destroyed with devastating consequences.”

Smook cites population growth, prosperity and pollution as the ultimate reasons for our escalating water crisis. Agriculture is the biggest national and global consumer of water and growing populations demand more food. Furthermore, a person rising out of poverty prefers protein based diets, which requires significantly more water to produce than carbohydrate foods.

Water budget deficit
According to Smook R670 billion is needed over the next ten years to: service previously unserviced communities (17%), to grow and maintain the water infrastructure (34%), and to rehabilitate the existing infrastructure (49%).

However, the South African Government only has an available budget of R332 billion, which leaves a budget deficit of R342 billion rand.

A part of the solution lies in demand-side driven solutions says Smook. “Consumers need to realise how important it is to use only as much as we need and as efficiently as possible. Governments and business need to realise that economies cannot grow indefinitely with limited water resources. We need a paradigm shift and to start living within our planetary limits.”

Dedicated municipalities
Despite the water challenges, there is some reason for optimism - many of the country’s municipalities have dedicated individuals working behind the scenes to ensure that the public has 24/7 access to potable water and safely managed waste water, according to Nicolette Pombo-Van Zyl, programme manager of the water track at African Utility Week.

“It is easy to forget that water management includes the collection, transportation and treatment of millions of litres of raw sewage that must undergo due diligence in ensuring that public health is protected and that our drinking water resources remain uncontaminated,” says Pombo-Van Zyl.

Pombo-Van Zyl: “At African Utility Week we will be addressing the key challenges of Integrated Water Resource Management including bridging the gap between water security aspirations and economic reality. With platforms such as these South Africans can celebrate the advancements made towards proactively managing this scarce resource now and in future.”

African Utility Week site visits
African Utility Week brings together the entire ecosystem for the African water and power sector, from high level government representatives, utilities and municipalities, regulators and power pools to consultants, vendors, service providers and energy intensive power users for the purpose of sharing and determining the future development of Africa’s power industry.

The dates for African Utility Week are:
Exhibition & Conference: 14-15 May 2013
Pre-conference Workshops: 13 May 2013
Site Visits: 16 May 2013
Location: CTICC, Cape Town
Contact Information
African Utility Week
Annemarie Roodbol
+27 21 700 3558

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