Water Research Commission supports research on water scarcity in South Africa

It is likely that South Africa is overexploiting its water resources at the national level, as water withdrawals currently exceed reliable supply. A seminar launching the latest African Futures paper “Parched prospect II: A revised long-term water supply and demand forecasts for South Africa” by Zachary Donnenfeld, Researcher, Institute for Security Studies Africa (ISS), was held in Pretoria at the Institute for Security Studies. This research was made possible with support from the Water Research Commission and supported by members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.

Using the international futures forecasting system, the research paper forecasts that withdrawals (water) in all three sectors (municipal, industrial and agricultural) will increase over the next 20 years. Proposed interventions for increasing supply and reducing demand are not enough to reconcile the gap between withdrawals and supply. More must be done to bring the South African water sector into balance and reconcile future national water withdrawals with future national supply.

Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the Water Research Commission, said that the partnership with the ISS intends to offer a different lens around the water conversation, focusing on risk, and also to organise a set of data, around which more stakeholders can have a conversation. Important innovations around new sanitation, water treatment and wastewater treatment technologies, water efficiency measures, non-revenue water and the war on leaks will assist in addressing water scarcity in South Africa.

The most recent available national data indicates that national water withdrawals in South Africa exceed national reliable supply. This does not mean that water is being overexploited everywhere, as some areas of the country are in balance. But it is impossible to have a national water deficit without some areas overexploiting their resources. Using the International Futures forecasting system the research paper forecasts water withdrawals for three key sectors: municipal, industrial and agricultural. According to the assumptions in the model, withdrawals will increase in each of these sectors over the next 20 years. To create a plausible water-supply forecast, the research has turned to the latest available large-scale reconciliation strategies conducted by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The AFP has gone through every one of these reconciliation strategies to identify and quantify every planned increase in water supply and every intervention designed to reduce water withdrawals.  The research indicates that in an attempt to reconcile water supply and demand South Africa needs to increase its available water supply by nearly 2.5 cubic kilometers and reduce withdrawals by 0.57 cubic kilometers by 2035.  This is in line with all of the planned interventions from all of the large-scale water reconciliation strategies of the DWS. The research indicated that even with all of these interventions withdrawals will exceed supply every year through to 2035.

The full report can be viewed at https://www.issafrica.org/uploads/AF16.pdf