Water, water everywhere

Like many a school kid, I was forced to memorise a section of Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, where he wrote of “Water, water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.”

Remind you of anywhere?

Well, Cape Town is blessed with not one, but two, oceans. As any exhausted marathon runner will tell you. No shortage of water.  And yet we have a water crisis?

One thing which really worries me is how a lack of clean water in our City is not just causing human misery, but economic harm.

Power stations like Koeberg may be able to channel sea water into their cooling systems, but many factories and other businesses have a desperate need for clean, reliable and ample supplies of pure water.

President Jacob Zuma was in Cape Town the other day opening a one-stop-shop for investors, so there is clearly a desire to expand the business backbone of our City and region.

However, while it is great to be reducing red tape for investors – a key benefit of the one-stop shop – they aren’t going to be flocking into a waterless wasteland.

The City of Cape Town is doing its bit with a series of measures to curb consumption, and has a (far too modest) spending plan to boost production through desalination, grabbing more water from aquifers, and so on.

But is it enough?

I was recently chatting to a European friend who spent a few weeks in Cape Town this year. He was throwing his cash around, dining in the best restaurants, staying in plush accommodation, giving a big boost to the local economy.

Will he be coming back next year?  He says not.  He likes to take a long shower each day, to keep his car and clothes clean.  If he can’t do it in Cape Town, he will do it in Rio or Sydney, Cannes, San Francisco or Vancouver.

Tourism is a business.  It is an export business and it is a thirsty business. Telling tourists to wash less, to have less pressure in their showers, is going to hurt tourism.

Instead, we must be turning up the pressure on our politicians and businesses.  I have been shocked to hear for years that our Ministers of Water Affairs have been frequently absent from the parliamentary committee to which they answer. They should be in hot water, if you will excuse the pun.

But beyond bashing politicians, fun though it may be, we must look at practical solutions to assist them.

The economy of the Cape is lubricated by water, and water must become businesses’ problem too. If we moan at politicians, too little will be done. If we assist them, there will be a flood of benefits.

As I have tried to argue, business will benefit, expand, create jobs and exports and bonuses for the bosses if they have enough – no, more than enough – water.

We HAVE to tap into business to solve the water crisis.   And it is not just so my smelly European friend can stay clean.

Martin Humphries is the CEO of Leapfrog Global and The Cape Messenger

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