Assessing urban water sustainability in South Africa – not just performance measurement
Urban water management – and the impacts that rapid population growth, industrialisation and climate change are having on it – is gaining increasing attention worldwide. In South Africa (SA), cities are under pressure to respond to not only the challenges of water availability and quality, but also to economic transformation and social division. New solutions for improving the sustainability of cities need to be found, including the development of tools to guide decision-makers. Several benchmarking initiatives have been implemented in the SA water sector – mostly in terms of performance measurement of specific water services for regulatory purposes – but none provide an integrated analysis to enable a deeper understanding of sustainability. The research described in this paper was thus focused on using a systems approach to create an understanding of, and measure the potential for, sustainability in a South African urban water context. This has been achieved through the development and evaluation of a composite index, the Sustainability Index for Integrated Urban Water Management (SIUWM). The first step involved compiling a vision of sustainability for the SA water sector, and expanding it into a sustainability framework to help identify suitable indicators for the assessment process, as well as those which link with existing measurement initiatives. Key performance indicator results from the Department of Water Affairs’ Regulatory Performance Management System (RPMS) and the Blue Drop / Green Drop schemes were used as partial input to the SIUWM, and scores were computed for the nine member cities of the South African Cities Network (SACN). The SIUWM links the results from the regulatory systems with a broader sustainability assessment process to provide a more detailed analysis which can be used to establish goals and inform strategic processes to leverage support for improved water services. In this way, the connections that link the different aspects of urban water management can be used to generate a greater awareness of the underlying issues by key decision makers and thus guide appropriate action.
Keywords: urban water management; sustainability index; performance measurement