Water security in South Africa: perceptions on public expectations and municipal obligations, governance and water re-use
South Africa is a water-scarce country with increasing pressure on its water resources. Urgent interventions are needed to protect water security within this rapidly developing country. This paper reports on an interdisciplinary Water Security Colloquium, convened by the South African Young Academy of Science in 2014. A selected group of water professionals from academia, civil society and local government was brought together to discuss water security under three focus themes: ‘public expectations and municipal obligations’, ‘water security and governance: challenges and advances’, and ‘water re-use: health and infrastructural considerations’. Participant perceptions were generated using a focus group methodology, combined with participatory data collection methods. Under each theme, inputs were categorised as ‘challenges’, ‘gaps in knowledge’, and ‘solutions/recommendations’ and these inputs were thereafter ranked in order of importance via a ‘voting’ process. Major challenges perceived included a lack of both skills and political will in government, a need to restore citizen trust in government intention and capability to deliver water-related services, and a failure to up-scale existing water re-use technology. Participants identified understanding of the process and implications of the Green and Blue Drop Programmes, knowledge transfer to the public, and the role of educators as major knowledge gaps. The top suggestions proposed included creating public awareness around and buy-in to initiatives to improve water security, accessible and user-friendly conversion of research results to implementation, and ensuring an active role for educators in creating awareness around water security. In view of the concerns identified, participants suggested as potential solutions: improving government and public understanding around water issues, incentivising water re-use and conservation, introducing rising block tariffs and improving human capacity development in the water sector. Developing the ecological infrastructure that protects both quantity and quality of water and building strong partnerships among all stakeholders were also recognised as key.
Keywords: capacity development, education, governance, water security, water re-use, water conservation, local government