How water reuse can save South Africa’s looming water deficit

Resource scarcity is a glaring reality for many countries around the world. Sadly, the decline of the available resources cannot be ignored or avoided any longer. Especially with the global climate change crisis, which is causing environmental changes and impacting natural resources such as agricultural production, energy production, water levels and more. 

Not to mention, the increase in population points out the increase in consumption of these resources. In fact, according to this article, a growing global population is expected to demand 35 percent more food by 2030. Additionally, only three percent of the world’s water is freshwater, and only 25 percent of water is accessible from rivers and lakes. 

Response to these challenges is more urgent now than ever before, and fresh water is the key to consistent food and energy production for our communities. South Africa has faced drought in the past few years, which significantly affected the above-mentioned production models. In addition, South Africa is facing a projected 17 percent water deficit by 2030. That’s why it’s critical to address water reuse, and adapt water reuse technology to make this a possible reality that improves water availability capacity for the country. 

What is water reuse?

Water reuse, also known as water recycling refers to reclaimed water from various resources to be treated and reused for different purposes such as; agriculture and landscape irrigation, potable water supplies, industrial processes, groundwater replenishing and more. 

What are the benefits of water reuse?

Water reuse makes it possible for water to be distributed towards agriculture irrigation, landscape irrigation, municipal support, power plants, refineries, mills and factories. It also means that there will be water available to use in the development of different types of infrastructure such as construction sites, road development and environmental restoration.

What are the water reuse challenges in South Africa?

While there are clear benefits of water reuse, there are challenges too. These start with public perception, social, cultural and religious beliefs that often prevent direct potable reuse options from being considered. However, indirect potable reuse and blending options have always been available and often socially more acceptable. To mitigate the risks that come with indirect potable use, we should strive to move towards intentional, planned water reuse. 

Further challenges include water quality and the cost relative to other water supply options. And desalination seems to be the preferred option for many coastal cities and towns, despite the reports that water reuse is more cost-effective. In addition, sewage problems in South Africa and sewage management are getting bigger than previously imagined. Sewages become clogged and erupt in increasing levels; this article explains exactly how the sewage system is a time-ticking bomb. All of these call for sustainable solutions, which we lack.

DBSA’s water reuse programme

The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) has recognised these challenges and identified opportunities in water and effluent reuse. And, because of this, the Bank has been working on a National Water Reuse Programme. The purpose of this programme is to encourage and assist local municipalities in scaling their water reuse projects. 

Through this programme, we aim to provide project preparation assistance and blended finance solutions that will follow an approach that’s directed towards water reuse. Our project preparation support will assist municipalities in progressing their water reuse projects from concept to a bankable stage. And, while the water treatment process in South Africa exists, there needs to be a better water reuse system that makes use of advanced technologies. That’s what DBSA is striving towards.

Final thoughts

The reality for every country in the world is that we’re pushing the natural resources beyond their limits. The more the population grows, the more pressure we exert on the consumption of already declining resources. When it comes to water, we need to act with urgency as the projected water deficit in South Africa is about 17 percent by 2030. Water reuse looks to be a necessary solution to implement. 

Wastewater treatment in South Africa already exists; we simply need to find a better system that will work long-term. This is why our ultimate objective is to establish water reuse infrastructure as a new financial asset in the country.