Awakening People to the Water Crisis

Tuesday, 21 March, 2006 - 12:08

Water Management and Sustainability22 March has been declared ‘World Day for Water,’ by a resolution of United Nations General Assembly.

Water Management and Sustainability

22 March has been declared ‘World Day for Water,’ by a resolution of United Nations General Assembly. The day has been identified to create public awareness about the importance of water with an emphasis on educating students and communities about the many water-related development efforts.  

World Water Day can be tracked as far back as 1993. Each year the celebration has centered on a theme that is celebrated globally. For World Water Day 2006, the theme is Water and Culture. The celebration will help increase global awareness of the vital role water plays in sustainable national development. 

At the same time, South Africa celebrates ‘National Water Week’ from 20-25 March 06.

Like most countries, water for South Africa is a limited natural resource and the accessibility of water is increasingly becoming critical due to population pressures, industrialisation, urbanisation and food production.

Salt water constitutes 97.5% of the earth’s water and fresh water, a miniscule 2.5%. Adding to the challenge is the fact that only 0.007% of all fresh water is accessible. As the world’s water becomes increasingly scarce, securing its supply becomes a human security issue. By the year 2025, it is estimated that close to 230 million Africans will face water scarcity. Currently over one billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water.

Tessa Cousins, Director of the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), is of the opinion that water is a great challenge for South Africa.  Cousins asserts that, “South Africa does not have a lot of water.” Most of the country’s major rivers have been dammed or have water abstraction schemes in place, in order to supply industry, agriculture, and domestic users. Cousins argues that, “Water has to be managed carefully and that South Africa has a long way to go in establishing proper systems.” 

Water is increasingly becoming a limited resource in South Africa and supply is becoming a major restriction to the socio-economic development of the country, both in terms of the amount of water available and the quality of water available. At present many water resources are polluted by industrial effluents, domestic and commercial sewage, acid mine drainage, agricultural runoff and litter, making the water not good for human consumption.

South Africa is facing a crisis as her available freshwater resources are depleting. Freshwater is almost fully-utilized and under stress. As the population grows, it is unlikely that the projected demand on water resources in South Africa will be sustainable. “People are planning for water as if there is enough, when there isn’t,” contends Cousins.

Minnie Hilderbrand, Africa Director of the Global Water Foundation, concurs that for centuries water has been used as if it is an infinite resource. Technologies, such as flush toilets and waterborne sewerage, which is nothing more than the transportation vehicle for human waste, has become the norm in urban areas and an aspiration in poor, rural areas.

She argues that when we talk water, we naturally also talk sanitation. Her contention is that water, sanitation and hygiene is critically interlinked and that the little water that is available to the poor – particularly those in rural areas and urban slums that are the most vulnerable to waterborne diseases – should be used for better health and hygiene. “People need quality potable water that they can drink, that will not make them sick, that will help them sustain life and ensure their ongoing and sustainable development.”

Her thoughts echo Cousins’ who asserts that people are deceived by the amount of water that appears to be available, when in actual fact a large amount of that water is not fit for human usage. “While water scarcity is a crisis, the high mortality rate as a direct result of waterborne diseases is a shame! Addressing this issue should be uppermost in the minds and hearts of each and every South African citizen if we are serious about our country’s development and our people’s wellbeing,” argues Hildebrand.

It is thus imperative that South Africa develops both a water-efficient economy together with a social ethic of water conservation and ultimately a culture of sustainability of water resource use.

- Badumile Duma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT

Acknowledgement:
- GFDL Image of Water provided by Walter J. Pilsak, WikiMedia
Image of girls pushing barrows provided by Chris Kirchhoff

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