Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Water, Advocate Johnny de Lange;
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Water Affairs;
CEO of the Water Research Commission, Mr Dhesigen Naidoo;
WRC Board and executives;
Everyone here today is either involved in water innovation or looking for solutions to our country's water challenges. We all know just how complex water issues are.
Our government has achieved a great deal in the area of water service delivery. However, millions of people in rural areas still have to walk long distances to fetch water, mostly from polluted streams. The lack of safe water has a profound impact on the health of our poor and vulnerable communities. Providing universal access to safe drinking water is a huge challenge, which requires innovative solutions.
In 2010, over 90% of South Africans had access to water within 200 metres of their dwelling. This was a significant increase from the 70% who had such access in 2000, which meant that water service provision had exceeded population growth. Notwithstanding the high levels of access we have had, currently only about 74% of citizens have access to a stable supply. It is understandable that this has given rise to community objections and protests.
In the March 2012, the Sanitation Report released by the Presidency, the Department of Human Settlements and the Department of Water Affairs indicated that, while access to sanitation is increasing in South Africa, about 3,2 million households are at risk of service failure or are experiencing service delivery breakdowns. Some 1, 4 million households in formal settlements have no services at all and almost 600 000 households in informal settlements are making use of interim services.
The underlying causes are multi-faceted. As a nation, we are struggling to upgrade and expand bulk infrastructure, ensure the quality of sanitation facilities, and maintain reticulation and on-site infrastructure. Revenue collection to fund the ongoing provision of services remains a challenge, as is the effective oversight, regulation, and management of water-related services at all levels of government. Furthermore, in service of democracy, we are still working on finding ideal forms of community liaison and participation to encourage communities to take responsibility in relation to the services.
This, in turn, means that thinking about and working with water has to be a multi-disciplinary, inclusive, continuous effort in which information has to be shared, globally, regionally, and locally.
However, the problem with such an all-encompassing, overarching field is that research, development and innovation can become very diffused. When different groupings in the field do not share ideas and information or demonstrate the outcome of their work, then time, money, and effort are wasted through unnecessary duplication of effort.
I am confident that the review of the National Water Policy will look into all these dynamics and I am encouraging members of civil society, researchers and experts with us here today to make their submissions and contribute in charting the way forward on the allocation and regulation of the nation's water resources.
From the point of view of the Department of Science and Technology, the symposium helps us design a roadmap for South African innovation in general. With that in mind, we have deepened our long-standing partnership with the Water Research Commission in order to develop both a Water Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap for South Africa and a Water Technology Demonstration Programme. Together, they will identify niche areas in the water sector that need further development and streamline the innovation cycle by showcasing water technologies and processes, thereby eliminating duplication of R&D effort.
It is obvious, therefore, that because of the number of players and activities in the water value chain, the most effective way of addressing the service delivery challenge is through coordination and collaboration – and, most of all, through a commitment to finding fresh answers that will carry us forward.
The need for joint innovation is particularly critical when one considers that water service delivery is embedded in the Water-Energy-Food security nexus, which highlights the fact that the long-term well-being of the people and of the planet are utterly dependent on successful management of not just water, food and energy individually, but also managing the links between them.
What we do – or do not do – in one field has a direct impact on the other. It is for this reason that the Water-Energy-Food nexus will be the theme of next year's Stockholm World Water Week.
With an increasing global emphasis on the Water-Energy-Food nexus, South Africa needs to consider its own status and role in the nexus, because whatever we do impacts on the rest of the world's water, energy and food security, and the rest of the world's actions impact on South Africa. There are no water, energy or food boundaries.
However, even if there were no international ramifications, we would need to look closely at our own interrelations between water, energy and food, because we have a particularly thorny problem. On the one hand, our energy landscape is still heavily dependent on coal. The environmental toll of coal-fired electricity is two-fold. An enormous amount of water is used to produce coal-fired electricity. As a water scarce country, we must be extremely mindful of this. Also, the gas emissions from coal-fired electricity cause climatic changes that affect temperature and rainfall. This has implications for food and energy security, not just in South Africa, but globally.
These issues are highlighted in Gauteng, which is South Africa's most economically productive and densely populated province, and it is therefore particularly demanding in terms of water, food and energy. Furthermore, water needs to be pumped uphill in the province of Gauteng, making water provision a significant energy consumer.
South Africa has a long track record of water research and development and, as a consequence, of finding innovative ways of addressing our water issues. However, for historical reasons, this work has often been done in isolation from the rest of the world and, certainly, separately from advances in the fields of food and energy.
Cross-border and cross-discipline collaboration is a relatively new bandwagon and we are still getting used to riding on it. Any new approach can be disruptive and a bit uncomfortable at first; it takes commitment to see it through. As the DST, we believe the commitment needs to take the form of optimising the innovation cycle by sharing information and resources. We also need to ensure that concept development is followed through all the way to the market and the end user, so that people see the benefits of the work that is being done.
This process has begun. For instance, the Biological Nutrient Removal process is a proudly South African invention that has advanced activated sludge systems internationally. Various configurations of the process that are in operation in South African urban centres have been applied extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia.
The award-winning Water Administration System, which is a decision support programme for managing water accounts and water supply through rivers, canal networks and pipelines to irrigation clients, is being implemented on schemes covering almost 28% of the irrigated areas administered by water user associations.
In 2008, the DST in partnership with the Department of Water Affairs and the Amatole District Municipality initiated the “Accelerating Sustainable Water Services Delivery” project, with the main objective of providing reliable, safe drinking water to unserved communities living in remote rural areas through the application of science and technology. Three villages from the Amatole District Municipality (Cwebe, Ntilini and Mbelu) were chosen as pilot sites for technology interventions. These consisted of communal water stations; guidelines for groundwater protection at springs and boreholes in the communities; and household-based ceramic filters for the purification of water at the home. The communal water stations were installed at the source (river) so that the community could continue to use their traditional paths to fetch drinking water. Through this project we were able to bring relief to just under 2000 households.
I have no doubt that we will be hearing about more such innovations during the run of this symposium. Scientists and researchers at some of the DST-affiliated entities are involved in exciting initiatives that I believe will, to some extent, address the water access challenge.
The South African National Space Agency is supporting the Department of Water Affairs in monitoring and assessing water resources, with a particular focus on water use registration and validation, water quality management, and mapping of water resources.
The African Earth Observation Network hub at the Tshwane University of Technology is working on purification of acid mine water, both at the surface and in deep gold mines, using processes such as sea water desalination and geothermal energy in conjunction with sulphur-reducing bacteria.
The Network is also monitoring ground water in areas of the Karoo that may be affected by future shale gas production involving fracking technologies.
One of the research themes for the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science uses water observation and monitoring to improve understanding of the impacts of climate change on water resources. It also models potential hydrological responses to climate change. Twenty-five postgraduate students have been funded to work on these projects
I am sure that these, and many other initiatives that will be showcased in the next two days of this symposium, will be no less exceptional.
It seems to me, however, that we should pause along the way to check how well the system of innovation in the water sector is working and whether there are ways in which we can streamline it further. In addition, while we’re working at a strategic and theoretical level, let us not forget that water is fundamental to development in South Africa. So, can we find better ways to apply water science and water technology to improve the socio-economic conditions of ordinary people?
The fact that 2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation puts the collaborative approach I have been talking about at the forefront of everything we do in the water sector. We need to deepen existing relationships – and forge new ones that will enable us to enter new markets, drive new socio-economic benefits, and leave the water sector better than how we found it.
Ladies and gentlemen, according to The Water Project, a non-profit organisation that drives sustainable water projects to communities in sub-Saharan Africa, “over half of the developing world's primary schools do not have access to water and sanitation facilities. Without toilets, girls often drop out at puberty”. What this means for us is that failure to provide access to water and sanitation at school level will inevitably inhibit the success rate of our programmes aimed at redressing gender inequalities, and will have a negative effect on education outcomes. This we surely cannot allow.
Water is life. Let the work that we do be focused on preserving life and on improving its quality. Let the work we do today be the benchmark that all future generations use to measure their own achievements. Our innovation must water the roots of future prosperity.
For more information contact :
Ms Veronica Mohapeloa
Deputy Director: Media Liaison and Communication
Department of Science and Technology
Cell: +2782 882 3818
Tel : +2712 843 6788