‘South Africa to face a national water crisis in the next 20 years’

Even if South Africa uses less water and applies all of government’s existing plans, the country will still face a water crisis in the next 20 years. Solutions are within reach – but turning things around will take significant financial investment and political will.

This is according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Water Research Commission which jointly launched the only publicly available national water forecast for South Africa up to 2035 over the weekend.

“Water scarcity is most severe in the Western Cape, but other parts of the country are overexploiting their renewable water resources too,” said ISS senior researcher and lead author of the new ISS report, Zach Donnenfeld. “This is a national problem with severe consequences for human development and economic growth.”

Using the International Futures (IFs) forecasting system, the study took into account every major reconciliation strategy planned by government – most of which focus on building more dams. The analysts also rebuilt the entire water model in the IFs system to allow demand to be constrained by water availability.

But even with all of these interventions, the study finds that South Africa will overexploit its renewable water resources until 2035 – which marks the end of the forecast horizon and the time period in the National Water Resource Strategy.

The future of South Africa’s water sector is uncertain. Nobody can be sure how much rain will fall over the coming decade. But what is clear is that the country is living beyond its water resources. Each day that passes, the problem becomes more difficult, and more expensive to fix.

“What South Africa needs,” said Donnenfeld, “is a coordinated approach to water management, across all three tiers of government, as well as civil society and individual residents. National government can invest in bulk water infrastructure while provincial and municipal governments can do more to reduce demand. Individuals also need to use less water.”

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