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How can South Africa overcome its water challenges and avoid the African water crisis?

About 2.2 billion people across the globe don't have access to clean drinking water – an alarming number as water is a basic need for your health and basic hygiene. This has shown the growing need for water. But, apart from people not having access to potable water, water scarcity is also something that has become a cause of concern. 

Climate change is the leading cause of water scarcity, and the growing population is putting even more strain on the available water resources around the world. However, when we look at Africa, we realise that there is a major threat. Not only do we face water challenges due to climate change, but we face challenges in accessing water resources. 

According to ESI Africa, "South Africa is approaching physical water scarcity in 2025 where they are expected to experience a water deficit of 17 percent by 2030, and climate change will worsen the situation." This article will look into the water challenges South Africa faces and whether we can avoid Africa’s water crisis. 

Lack of water usage knowledge

One of South Africa’s most prominent water issues is that most people don’t have enough knowledge on how to preserve it. According to research done by the Institute for security studies, South Africans use more water than the global average. South Africans currently use 234 litres of water per person daily, and the country’s per capita water consumption is higher than the global average of 173 litres. South Africans need to learn how to conserve water if they wish to avoid water scarcity. This can be done through tiered pricing, where users are charged when they consume a higher rate than what is considered necessary for daily activities. Other ways include having incentives for consumers to consider purchasing water-efficient appliances and go above and beyond to find ways to use less water. 

Wastewater treatment is insufficient

According to Daily Maverick, billions of litres of poorly treated or untreated sewage, industrial and pharmaceutical wastewater are disposed of into rivers and oceans. A total of 56 percent of the country's treatment plants are in poor or critical condition. Groundwater is also underused, especially in the agriculture sector. We need to work on improving the wastewater treatment as it can ensure there isn’t any unsafe drinking water in Africa and more available water for citizens while ensuring that South Africa doesn’t experience the same water crisis in African countries. 

Frequent droughts

Since 2015, South Africa has experienced water shortages. This is mainly because of climate change, which causes rainfall delays that eventually decrease dam levels, leading to droughts within the country. It is important that we work towards protecting the environment to ensure that we slow down the implications of climate change. 

DBSA’s role 

The DBSA is aware of the water scarcity in the country and the projections of water deficit in the future. As mentioned above, water scarcity is caused by a number of factors within the country. This is why we strive to ensure economic infrastructure to promote adequate water sources while continuing to inform and educate citizens so that every South African household has access to sufficient clean, safe water and sanitation. 

At the DBSA, we offer a range of financial and non-financial solutions for water and sanitation challenges within South Africa. With investments from the private sector along with DFI, government and concessional funding, we will be able to address the water challenges and hopefully prolong our water sources to avoid exacerbating the water crisis. 

Final thoughts

Water and sanitation in Africa is an ongoing crisis that needs to be addressed. Not only do we need to improve sanitation, but we need to ensure that households gain access to water supplies that offer safe drinking water, fix our wastewater treatments, and educate people on the importance of water conservation and how they can reduce the impact of climate change. Investing in water and sanitation ensures the betterment of all citizens. While there is a cause for concern regarding water in the future, if stakeholders work together, we can find viable solutions to water scarcity in Africa and South Africa.