The National Business Initiative (NBI) has introduced an ambitious new project aiming to help ensure long-term water security for both business and communities across South Africa.
Called Kopano ya Metsi, meaning “meeting for water”, this project is examining public-private partnerships (PPPs) as one way of addressing the country’s estimated R668 billion backlog in water infrastructure, which includes pump stations, waste-water treatment plants and pipes.
This staggering statistic comes from the National Department of Water and Sanitation, which says the estimate is a conservative one.
Maanda Rashaka, the NBI’s project lead, said the infrastructure backlog has been caused by several factors, including large-scale migration post-1994 from rural to urban areas which lacked the infrastructure to serve the new settlements; local government attempts to provide the infrastructure alone, despite a lack of institutional capacity in a number of instances; a failure to spend maintenance budgets for infrastructure (most of which was provided in the 1970s and 1980s), mismanagement and wasteful expenditure. Drought and the lack of revenue from many consumers are exacerbating the problem.
He cited a Mail and Guardian article by Sipho Kings, which reported that of the 824 waste water treatment plants in South Africa, only 60 are believed to be releasing clean water, and 50 000 litres of sewage is probably flowing into South Africa’s rivers every second, causing people to fall ill and polluting the environment.
The government’s National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS 2) recognises the infrastructure backlog and states that the private sector should play a role.
”The need is an urgent one because climate change is affecting us quickly,” said Maanda. “We have had severe droughts resulting in water shortages across the country in recent years, and in some areas the droughts are worsening.
“Some municipalities are now speaking of PPPs quite positively,” he added. “The era in which they were seen as privatising water has hopefully passed; privatisation is clearly not an option, and PPPs in South Africa should rather be seen as a way of assisting government to provide services efficiently.”