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ActionAid South Africa has launched the Water Interrupted Campaign and the accompanying report— Running on Empty: What Business, Government and Citizens must do to confront South Africa’s water crisis. The report explores the issue of water scarcity in South Africa within the context of the imminent threat that it already poses to the economic and political security of small and larger countries around the world. The Water Interrupted Campaign calls on all actors and sectors of society to act immediately to ramp up water efficiency.

The report and campaign brings three key new elements to the debate on water in South Africa:

  • Water scarcity represents a major challenge for South Africa, which could lead to conflicts and hinder socio-economic growth;
  • There is an urgent need to refocus the efforts from securing supply, to massively ramping up efficiency measures in all sectors and at all levels; and
  • The business community has a major role to play in this, as it has the necessary resources and is a major water user.

 Main findings of the report

The state of water in South Africa:

  • South Africa is classified as the 30th driest country in the world with average rainfall of just 450 millimetres a year compared to the global average of 860mm.
  • South Africa uses on average 235 litres of water per day for domestic use compared to the 173 litres of water per day average of the rest of the world.
  • Nearly 100% of available water in South Africa is already allocated.
  • An estimated 40% of wastewater treatment plants are in a critical state diminishing the country’s ability to replenish water stocks.
  • Leakage is also a significant problem: 25% of water is lost before it reaches consumers because of leaks. Another 6.4% of water is stolen by unauthorised users, while 5% is taken by registered users. These losses are often referred to as non-revenue water. In South Africa this represents 36.8%.
  • By 2030, demand will outstrip supply by 17%. The water boards supplying South Africa’s largest cities – Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria, will simply not have enough water.
  • Water-shedding (cutting off supply in times of critical overuse or undersupply) could become a reality.
  • Global investment group Nomura International reduced its 2016 growth forecast for South Africa by 3% because of water restrictions limiting output.
  • Water access is also affected by systemic inequalities with poor rural communities having the worst water access and being the most affected by drought. This is not projected to change. Just in the domestic sector, the demand is projected to grow to 2030 with the richest fifth of the population accounting for half of all the withdrawals.

Sectorial demands for water:

  • The agricultural sector uses approximately 61% of water in South Africa to grow crops and sustain livestock but contributes approximately 3% to the country’s GDP (more than half of this water is used to irrigate just 1.5% of agricultural land, which is a symptom of unequal access).
  • Domestic/municipal use accounts for about 27% of the country’s water use (23% in urban areas and 4% in rural areas).
  • The mining and industrial sector uses 8% of South Africa’s water with the - energy sector accounting for 2% of this. However, it is likely that one third of municipal water (additional 8%) is used by commercial users.

File 33458Anah Maemu, says that her biggest challenge as a farmer in Limpopo is a lack of water management. Photo: Katherine V Robinson

 Solutions & recommendations for actions

The report demonstrates that significant savings would be achievable by ramping up water efficiency measures in different sectors of the economy:

  • Making agricultural irrigation systems more efficient could save between 30% and 40% of current water use.
  • The domestic and municipal sectors can reduce their consumption anywhere between 12% to 30% by addressing physical losses (leaks) and increasing household water efficiency.
  • The potential for savings in the industry was much more difficult to calculate due to the lack of data available. However, we calculated that if the industry reduced its water usage by 10%, approximately 13.7 million people would gain basic access to water.

File 33459Our country can easily and immediately improve water efficiency.

The business sector can help South Africa by:

  • Improving their business operations to use as little water as possible.
  • Investing in and providing water-efficient products and technologies.
  • Investing in municipal infrastructure in partnership with government and municipalities to conduct audits and support water-saving programmes.
  • Working with small and medium enterprises that have solutions to water shortages and that can provide the necessary services, such as water audits.
  • Taking a leadership role with the Government and joining forces to implement the necessary changes to ensure a sustainable supply of water for people, the economy, and the ecosystems.

Government can help South Africa by:

  • Creating a regulatory framework that incentivises good water behaviour and penalises bad behaviour. The ‘polluter-pays’ principle must be enforced.
  • Finding and repairing all leaks within the municipal reticulation system. Ensure that its metering and billing systems are in working order and work to reduce the levels of non-revenue water in the country.
  • Spearheading an educational initiative to raise awareness of water as a valuable and scarce resource in efforts to change behaviour patterns.

The agricultural sector can help South Africa by:

  • Urgently investing in efficient irrigation equipment and looking at innovative ways to access water. This sector in particular needs to shift in a transformative way to open up access to water, land and markets for small-scale and emerging farmers.

The industrial sector can help South Africa by:

  • Immediately investing in enhancing water-efficient technologies and solutions across its supply chains.
  • Prioritising, reducing or eliminating water pollution from its activities.
  • Putting in place concrete targets and establishing transparent measures to track progress towards these.

South Africans can help by:

  • Taking control over their domestic consumption of water by changing the way they use and view water, and adopting water-saving technologies, such as efficient taps and double flush toilets, as well as using products like efficient detergents.
  • Only buying products with low water footprints to minimise the impact on water consumption and quality levels.

                                                   Download Running on Empty

If you or your organisation would like to support this initiative contact Tricia Sibbons— Partnerships and Philanthropy on 082 389 6763 or email

ActionAid South Africa is a registered NPC no: 2014/226941/08 and can issue Section 18a certificates for relevant donations.