IT IS not surprising that almost 40% (36.8%) of the total municipal water in South Africa is lost before it reaches municipal customers — from industry to households.
This was revealed in this week’s release of a Water Research Commission (WRC) report showing the government has dropped the spanner on maintaining South Africa’s ageing water infrastructure.
The consequences are costly‚ and raise the spectre of "the Eskom problem” — rolling blackouts in 2008 cost the economy an estimated R50bn after the power utility’s decade-long calls for money to be spent on infrastructure went unheeded by the government.
Experts have been warning for years that South Africa’s infrastructure maintenance backlogs — an estimated R2bn a year for water and R33bn for electricity — threaten the economy and social security.
South Africa’s leaky water infrastructure network brings an estimated 4‚292-million cubic metres of water to the country’s urban population. It also loses an estimated 1‚580-million cubic metres of water each year.
This is "nonrevenue water” — water lost before it reaches a customer‚ through leaks‚ theft and metering inaccuracies.
In a further sign of how dire the situation is becoming‚ the Department of Water Affairs has had to dispatch its rapid response unit to deal with water shortages plaguing the northern half of the country‚ from Mafikeng in North West to Nelspruit in Mpumalanga and Brandfort in the Free State. Experts have pinned this on the lack of maintenance and warned that a focus on extending access to water has cost South Africa dearly in terms of maintenance.
The WRC report reveals municipalities are "in crisis management mode” and the lack of information available from more than half showed that these municipalities "are not even aware they have a problem”.
WRC water use and waste management executive manager Jay Bhagwan says 61% of South Africa’s municipalities have poor record-keeping.
The study‚ The State of Non-Revenue Water in South Africa‚ is the most comprehensive of its kind to date‚ with data gathered from 132 municipalities‚ representing 75% of the total volume of municipal water supply. There are eight metropolitan municipalities‚ 44 district municipalities and 226 local municipalities in South Africa.
The WRC estimates the government loses R7bn every year because this ” nonrevenue water” is lost before anyone bills customers for it.
It is not good news for a country that has a R2bn-a-year water infrastructure backlog‚ as well as half the world’s average annual rainfall.
Of the "nonrevenue” water losses‚ 25.4% was "considered to be losses through physical leakage”‚ the WRC said in the report.
While South Africa’s water losses‚ high compared with the developed world and low compared with the developing world‚ are in tune with the global average of 36.6%‚ this is small comfort for the country.
WRC researcher Ronnie McKenzie says it is "pleasing to note that large metros and most of the large cities and towns are now monitoring their water use and trying to establish a proper and reliable water balance in line with international recommendations”.
However‚ the global financial downturn means traditional lenders are chary of laying cash on the line‚ and the Department of Water Affairs said last August water infrastructure required investment of R670bn — almost double the available funding. The funding gap is R338bn.
The World Bank has estimated the cost of nonrevenue water to utilities globally at $14bn a year — and that halving this loss in developing countries‚ where relative losses are highest‚ could generate about $2.9bn.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has set a target to reduce the nonrevenue water loss to 15% by next year.
The WRC says this will be achievable only if billions of rand are poured into water demand management across the country. If this money is not invested‚ the WRC estimates an "achievable” target of a 25% reduction within 10 years.
Mr Bhagwan says not spending money on water infrastructure maintenance will have ” disastrous” consequences‚ starting when water infrastructure deteriorates to the point the government is faced with having to replace it instead of maintaining it.
"Replacement will be much more expensive‚” he says.
Mr McKenzie says many municipalities lack "even the most basic bulk meter readings”‚ meaning they "do not know they have a problem”. © BDlive 2013