South Africa ranks as the 30th driest country in the world and is facing serious water challenges. Now, government and other stakeholders are looking at groundwater as an alternative source.
But while groundwater has the potential to play an important role in addressing Mzansi’s water shortages, experts say the utilisation of groundwater needs to be properly informed to avoid over-extraction.
During a media briefing on World Water Day, water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu said that groundwater plays an important role in ensuring water security in the country. “Studies predict that by 2025, the region will have insufficient water supplies to meet human and ecosystem needs, resulting in increased competition for scarce resources, constrained economic development, and declining human health,” Mchunu pointed out.
Janse Rabie, Agri SA’s head of natural resources, agrees that groundwater has the potential to play an important role in addressing water shortages. “However, this is also often the most important source of water for the agricultural sector,” he adds.
He believes that the utilisation of groundwater needs to be well informed by sound scientific and geo-hydrological information to ensure that over-extraction does not damage underground water reserves.
Competition for water to increase
Rabie says that the over-use of any resource could potentially jeopardise its sustainability. It could also impact existing users.
“The recharging dynamics of underground water resources need to be properly understood before one simply begins drilling for and taking from such resources. This all needs to be supported by a properly functioning authorisation and licensing system that can be properly implemented and enforced.”
Global agriculture accounts for roughly 70-80% of the earth’s water resource usage. In South Africa, the agricultural sector uses approximately 60% of the country’s available water, well below the global average.
“Yet, South Africa has a strong agricultural sector, is food secure and provides a strong flow of income to the country from export revenue while, at the same time, creating employment. South Africa will likely remain water-stressed and the problem will increase as demand for water escalates as our population increases and the economy grows,” says Rabie.
He warns that the competition for water will increase in the future and the management of this scarce resource will become more and more important.
While South Africa received good seasonal rains in both the northern and southwestern parts of the country, during the 2021-22 summer rainfall and the 2021 winter rainfall seasons respectively, water concerns prevail in rural areas because of poor municipal delivery of potable water.
Rabie says that a major step in the right direction will be to ensure increased management input by civil engineers and water management experts in catchment areas.
He also deems it vital that water wastage and leakages be addressed with the utmost urgency and that issues around unpaid water be resolved.
Private sector jumps in to offer solutions
In a bid to help solve the country’s water problems, role players in the private sector have started coming on board. Coca-Cola, for one, has launched a project called Coke Ville, an off-grid, solar-powered groundwater harvesting and treatment project geared to supply water to communities experiencing water insecurity.
The project has already generated more than 130 million litres of water to benefit more than 15 000 households in rural settlements across nine sites in South Africa, with more in the pipeline.
Nozicelo Ngcobo, public affairs, communication and sustainability director at Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA), says that consistent access to clean running water remains a challenge for many rural communities across South Africa. “Having access to clean running water is essential for human health, environmental protection and socio-economic development.
“Our strategy focuses on sustainable, efficient water usage, improving local water challenges and partnering with others to improve watershed health and enhance community water resilience, with a focus on women and girls.”
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