Business has a major role to play in tackling water crisis

Harrison Pienaar

A Pretoria technology conference has been warned that business has a far greater role to play in the battle against water scarcity.
This came on Friday, at a panel session on water and industrial growth, and the warning was delivered by CSIR water resources expert Harrison Pienaar.

He said that R855bn in investment is required in the water sector over next 10 years. “Private sector involvement in water (currently) is mainly as users, and confined to the provision of supplies and professional services,” he suggested, arguing that Public Private Partnerships (PPS) “are a key mechanism to drive interventions.”

He said that while (ample) water is a catalyst for industrial development, “its absence is a key constraint. “It is a catalyst and an enabler. The absence of water also imposes key constraints to industry and other sectors.” Pienaar noted that the World Economic Forum (WEF) has placed water shortages in the top three major global risks, after unemployment and migration.

On the positive side, he pointed to job opportunities in tackling the water crisis. “Water stimulates growth – a number of water-dependent jobs are being created in Africa,” he said.

“Water is a very scarce resource in South Africa. We need smarter technologies, especially for treatment. But the importance of management and operational interventions cannot be overemphasised.”

He also suggested that transboundary resource management in the region is vital, and noted that SA is the 30th driest country in the world.
“Limited water availability and increased water quality problems pose severe risks to industry and to society,” he said.

“But we are spoiled in our choice of interventions – water loss control, efficiency, desalination, effluent re-use, inter-basin transfers…… “We need to use water more smartly. Better measurement and monitoring is important for this.

“What is important is that it is not the development of new technology, but it is often how we deploy existing technologies in an integrated way. You need a multidisciplinary approach.

“Global trends are: reduce, remediate and reuse. The three Rs”

Pienaar suggested that government has a vital role to play in creating the right enabling environment for industry to tackle the water crisis.

“We have an industry that is willing and able to supply solutions, but if the government doesn’t meet industry needs, some technologies are not taken up,” he warned.

Nick Tandi of the Nepad Business Foundation insisted that South Africa needs “a competent industry” dealing with water challenges, developing solutions  “which could be exported elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, he said there will need to be very careful planning to ensure that when new sources of water are brought on stream from re-treatment or other technologies, “the business case is going to take collaboration – who are going to be the offtakers?

“How do you develop a multi-stakeholder business case?”

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