“Unless we take drastic measures to conserve water sources and promote efficient use, water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country. Our current energy challenges will seem small by comparison.” - President Ramaphosa, December 2019
Severe water shortages were a major wake-up call for affected South Africans over the past three years. Once the pandemic hit, it again underscored how critical our water supply is for the health and livelihoods of citizens. As recent as July this year, only 65% of the nation had access to safe and reliable water. And despite water being a universal basic human right, “day zero” still looms for parts of the country and even for some developed nations.
In KwaZulu-Natal, fresh water supply is gradually running out. Conservancies KZN says that causes range from contamination, to inefficient river and catchment management, to damaged infrastructure, alien plants, illegal connections, vandalism and over-consumption. It’s clear that no single problem exists but the challenge that will undoubtedly persist is escalating demand.
S.A. gets about half the global average in annual rainfall and that is set to decline with rising temperatures. Climate change will only exacerbate the situation — even in tropical KZN. Drought, unpredictable rains, extreme weather events and flooding are inevitable. But why won’t we act until crisis hits?
“As its effects spread, it could destabilise entire economies and overwhelm poorer countries lacking resources and infrastructure. But this is the climate crisis, not the coronavirus…Unlike an illness, it is harder to visualise how climate breakdown will affect us each as individuals.” – The Guardian, 2020
As climate change occurs and the earth’s population increases, it is likely that even more areas will become ‘water-stressed’ or prone to flooding. Water is a very local issue and so demands solutions specific to the particular location.
Communicating the causes of water shortages and realities of what we could potentially face in S.A. is crucial. Acting on it in the midst of a pandemic is still achievable.
One Planet Living aims to simplify the guidelines for water sustainability even through these challenging times. To attain a sufficient and quality water supply, One Planet advocates for:
The efficient use of water. By being water-wise and tracking consumption in households and businesses, using water efficiently and returning it clean to the environment
Protection of local water resources and sustainable water management. By having a positive impact on water management through products or services
Reducing flood risk. By mitigating any flood risk which may arise in households, operations or supply chains
Avoiding any contribution to drought. By avoiding any contribution to water stress in households, operations or supply chainsSo, what can we do to use water more sustainably?
So, what can we do to use water more sustainably?
Track consumption — Knowing your consumption levels can certainly change your behaviour. An easy start would be to begin tracking your monthly water consumption (measured in kℓ) on a utility bill. Businesses and households can do a water audit at no cost. Once you’ve established your baseline and where the majority of water is consumed, you can take specific actions to save at home or at work.
Simple behavioural changes have shown to have a vast impact on overall water use. When the City of Cape Town warned its citizens of “day zero” in 2018, residents and businesses did their part by recycling laundry water, taking fewer showers, and sanitizing instead of washing hands. The campaign worked — enough for officials to call off the state of emergency.
A fabulous commercial exemplar in the Cape is the Century City Convention Centre, which is part of Century City Square, the all green commercial and hospitality hub of Century City. Their sustainable water practices include the use of non-potable water in all their ablution facilities; dual flush toilets which have saved 1.8 million litres of fresh water since 2016; and built in reducers in their showerheads and taps in public bathrooms which also run off automatic timers. It was lovely to wash my hands there using a fine spray of water that was effective and I thought ‘why don’t all taps in SA have these reducers?’ — which are low tech, inexpensive and save water. Better still, make them mandatory in law. Staff at Century City are all trained on best water-saving practices and each hotel room has a water saving awareness reminder with tips on how to save water. People’s behaviour change again being recognized as a vital part of sustainability.
Think about the water footprint on good and products — We are always championing a local-is-lekka mindset. When you consume an imported product, you don’t only increase its footprint in the supply chain, but also take away water from its local population. Supporting local grower schemes and local products can have a hugely positive impact on your water footprint. Active Sustainability gives you an idea of the amount of fresh water used to produce everyday goods and services. It also calculates your personal water footprint.
Look at your waste stream — One Planet Living aims to minimise the waste stream and completely eliminate damaging effluent in all parts of household business and the industry ‘ecosystem’.
A few practical ways to minimise water waste at home is to:
- Limit your shower to 4 minutes instead of the average 8-minute shower (which will save at least 30 litres of water)
- Use a bucket in the shower to capture water while it heats up (use that to flush, garden or mop)
- Turn off taps while brushing teeth
Households are as responsible as businesses to return water clean to the environment. Flushing or pouring chemicals and toxins down the drain is harmful to water systems. Here is a full list of common items that should not be flushed or poured down the drain. If you haven’t already tried out biodegradable or homemade cleaning products, here are some ideas and tips on how one can “keep rubbish out of the sewer system”.
Businesses that deal with biohazardous waste should always have waste removed by certified waste management providers, (like One Planet Durban’s Oricol Environmental Services) and the Rose Foundation whose collectors recycle and reprocess used lube oil into economically valuable products. Keeping all those nasties out of our sewer and ultimately our clean water systems.
An inspiring local Case Study is the Durban Water Recycling project which treats municipal wastewater to near potable standards for reuse in industrial processes. Two of its biggest achievements have been to reduce the city’s overall water consumption by 7% and to reduce the sea outfall pollution by 24%.
Invest in a rainwater harvesting tanks — Every time the rain falls, there is a chance to harvest it. Residential, commercial and industrial properties can benefit from KZN’s rainy seasons by collecting water for drier seasons. Rainwater harvesting can solve so many of our challenges in S.A — from drainage, to irrigation of crops + gardens, to reducing soil erosion. In KZN specifically, it’s an ideal way to mitigate flood risk. The initial cost of installing tanks is inexpensive considering the return on investment.
A Durban based belt factory installed a 40 000 litre rainwater tank on its roof, which will save an average of 480 000 litres of municipal water annually. During rainy seasons, 90% of the factory’s water demand will be supplied by rainwater capture.
Amidst the pandemic, some rural communities are accessing water from state provided water tanks. One Planet Durban’s Mthombeni Primary is making good use of its six Jojo tanks for handwashing in semi-rural KZN. Tippy taps are also a brilliant way to save water in schools — check out this inspiring story of a school that will save over 500 000 litres of potable water annually after installing its tippy taps.
S.A. has not yet confronted the possibility of an absolute water shortage. The key to water security is for government and citizens to account for and manage what we have. Post-COVID recovery plans should centre around the green economy — and a fundamental pillar of the green economy is Sustainable Water. For today, consider how you can help family and colleagues use water wisely during operations — through information, education, encouraging behaviour change and creating a culture of sustainability.