This year, South Africa will observe World Water Week under the ominous cloud of the Cape Town water crisis, and the stark reality of long-term water scarcity in South Africa and beyond its borders. The spotlight on water is at the heart of all conversations in South Africa with questions mainly being raised around sustainable water management, government’s role in the securing access of clean water for all citizens, and the future we face with alarming rates of drought and other weather extremes around the world.
On the occasion of World Water Day, Greenpeace Africa’s Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, Melita Steele, said, “Day Zero is a sign of the times. Millions of South Africans live with Day Zero every day, because they don’t have access to water. Water scarcity is a massive problem, and it is not going to go away. Greenpeace believes that the 2002 UNESCO General Comment that ‘the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other rights’ goes to the heart of the matter.
“The days of mega water users like Eskom and coal mines having unlimited access to water at the expense of the people of South Africa must be over. We must change the narrative around water, and we must defend our right to water at all costs.
“The fact of the matter is that the water story in South Africa is not a good one. Our Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation has for all intents and purposes collapsed. Demand is going to exceed supply in the long term, and it will be difficult to close the gap. All government departments, including but not limited to the Department of Water and Sanitation, must put water at the centre of decision making, and must firmly prioritise water for people over business and profits.”
According to the South African Human Rights Commission, there has been an increase in complaints relating to the right to water between 2012 and 2016, which is tied to insufficient or lack of basic service delivery. This is likely to worsen unless people’s right to water is protected and put first. Water is a basic human right.
In the recent report, “A delicate balance: Water scarcity in South Africa”, it is indicated that as the forces of climate change, urbanisation, population growth and industrialisation collide in SA there needs to be a comprehensive and aggressive push from the South African government to restore balance to the water sector. With this responsibility comes an important opportunity. This makes it clear that a fundamental shift related to water is required to avoid devastating consequences in the future.