• Drop for drop

    Sub-Saharan Africa holds the highest number of water-stressed countries. Education is key to conservative consumption as well as access to clean, safe drinking water.

    Drop for drop

    Heads of state and chief executives, as well as leaders of various NPOs and NGOs, perceive threats to worldwide water supply as the most serious challenge to business and society – even more so than global disease pandemics or nuclear weapons.

    For the first time ever, water crises ranked number one in the WEF’s Global Risks report, an annual survey of the world’s most critical issues. The report measures 28 risks on two criteria: the likelihood of it occurring within the next 10 years, and the impact – or level of devastation – it will have. Water ranked eighth for likelihood and took top spot for impact.

    South Africa is classified as a water-stressed state – its water resources under pressure due to a growing population, continuous development, infrastructure challenges, pollution, wetland destruction, invasive alien plants, climate change, droughts and the illegal extraction from water sources – both raw and municipal.

    What this means is that the available resources per person are dwindling, making conservation efforts more important now than ever before.

    Cape Town was the first municipality in South Africa to implement a dedicated project for water conservation and water demand management in 2007.

    Through various projects, programmes and interventions (both technical and community-based), the plan has achieved significant water savings. Some of these include installing pressure-reduction devices in schools, fixing water connection leaks, auditing consumer meters, training caretakers and holding workshops to educate the public.

    The plant treats 47.5 million litres of wastewater. It is then converted to a near-potable standard and sold to industrial customers

    Indeed, the Mother City continues to encourage its citizens to consciously save water. In November 2011, the city launched the Keep Saving Water Campaign. Speaking at the launch, Mayor Patricia de Lille advised residents to consider society as a whole when it came to water consumption. ‘If we waste water, someone will go without,’ she said. ‘And if we waste too much water, Cape Town will go without. But we can take measures to ensure the future of our water supply. We can take measures to live sustainably.’

    According to Farouk Robertson, communications officer for Cape Town’s Department of Water and Sanitation, the campaign’s main objective was for people to take ownership of their water resources.

    The department takes people through the process by creating awareness, he says. But ultimately the idea is for it to become a lifestyle choice that people make, without being policed, and in turn encourage others to adopt the same water-saving philosophies. ‘That is what we are trying to do, encourage a responsible city. Water is our most valuable commodity and we must save it wherever we can,’ he says.

    The Keep Saving Water Campaign officially ended in November 2014, though a report on the efficacy of it is still being compiled. ‘This report will give us a sense of what’s happening, and give us all the learnings of the campaign so that when we re-engage, we know how best to align ourselves,’ Robertson says.

    Each day, the city of Durban treats some 450 million litres of wastewater – a figure that convinced the council’s eThekwini Water Services to investigate the possibility of recycling treated wastewater.

    Commissioned in May 2001, the Durban Water Recycling Project was South Africa’s first private water-recycling plant. According to estimates, it frees up sufficient drinking water for 300 000 people.

    Located in the Southern Wastewater Treatment Works, one of the major wastewater facilities run by eThekwini Water Services, the plant treats 47.5 million litres of domestic and industrial wastewater. It is then converted to a near-potable standard and sold to industrial customers for use in their processes.

    It’s available at a considerably lower tariff, making it attractive to companies. Mondi Paper’s Merebank paper mill and the SAPREF refinery, owned by Shell and BP, are two of its largest customers.

    Rand Water’s environmental brand Water Wise has been in operation for over a decade. The campaign aims to increase awareness around the importance of valuing water and using it intelligently.

    Providing a framework that promotes water conservation, Water Wise also deals with education and awareness campaigns. It advocates practical Water Wise practises aimed at decreasing water consumption in businesses, homes and gardens. In addition, it conducts research by partnering with relevant organisations.

    Justin Friedman is one of the founders of For Love of Water (FLOW), a campaign started in 2010. It has since evolved into a strategy that has been adopted by schools, corporates and even international governments.

    It was launched as an initiative to introduce ‘different sectors of society, including national, provincial and local government to corporates and media, to drive lasting behaviour change in the realm of water’, says Friedman.

    The more people are educated about water scarcity, the closer the world gets to ensuring that there will be enough of it to go around

    ‘The strategy was taken up by different organisations across the country and used to inform their own strategies. I think it also inspired individuals to do their own thing.’

    According to Friedman, FLOW’s greatest measurable impact to date was in 2011 when it brought together UN-Water and the South African government, when the former came to Cape Town. FLOW facilitated activations and events, disseminating information across various media platforms.

    The campaign’s goal was to instil in people a liveable value: FLOW’s water-saving message reached over 10 million people in that one month alone.

    ‘We know we need to save water. The bigger question is why,’ says Friedman. ‘If you can entrench that value, it helps to have a more lasting impact.’

    Last year, FLOW shifted its focus to the digital space, making a free online toolkit available for download. It can be used by anyone, including schools and governments, and incorporates print and digital design material, their visual identity, infographics and videos as well as information on water conservation. More recently, FLOW has turned its attention to biomimicry.

    ‘We’re focused on learning from nature and trying to find inspiration on how we could learn from water and its properties,’ says Friedman.

    Further up in Africa, various private organisations, NGOs and NPOs such as Water.org, the Water Project and Watering Earth are taking water consumption and conservation awareness a step further. Their focus includes developing much-needed water and sanitation infrastructure across several highly water-stressed countries.

    Kenya has a population of approximately 45 million people and, with the majority of the country characterised by a harsh, arid climate, it is classified a water-scarce nation. Access to safe water supplies is estimated at around 62%.

    The government is struggling to afford water treatment and distribution systems development, which has prompted private water companies as well as NGOs and NPOs to step up to the plate.

    Water.org currently supports a countrywide WaterCredit initiative with various microfinance institutions in rural and urban areas, which provide a range of water and sanitation products such as rainwater-harvesting tanks, wells, pumps, septic tanks and biogas toilets.

    The first programme of its kind that put microfinance tools to work in the water and sanitation sector, WaterCredit originated on the basis that there are many people in the developing world who can and are willing to finance safe water and sanitation.

    WaterCredit connects financial institutions with underprivileged communities, granting loans to individuals, which can then be used to install water-harvesting systems or sanitation at the individual’s home.

    The initiative works similarly in Uganda, providing loans for water and sanitation. Most people living in this country use springs and other surface water sources, many of which are highly contaminated.

    According to the CIA’s World Factbook, access to safe water supplies in Uganda is around 65%.

    The Water Project (TWP) believes that access to safe water is fundamental to community development. This US-based NPO helps communities in sub-Saharan Africa by digging wells, constructing small sub-surface dams, catching rainwater, protecting freshwater springs and filtering surface water.

    Initiated in 2006, TWP has helped some 275 000 people from more than 700 communities in countries that include Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan. It also operates in India and Haiti.

    People from developing nations typically dig wells by hand, says the TWP, and therefore they generally reach a depth of around 15m. However, with the right equipment and the assistance of organisations such as this one, wells can be drilled to deeper water that is also safer, as there is less risk of pollution.

    According to TWP, a 35m-deep well and a hand pump will suffice for the majority of rural communities. It costs little if anything to operate and repair, yet it can provide water for as many as 500 people.

    Watering Earth, a US-based start-up, works to implement cost-effective, sustainable and efficient water solutions by partnering with NPOs, NGOs and local organisations in various states, including the Central African Republic and Cameroon.

    Corina Groeger, co-founder and director of Watering Earth, says: ‘The organisation was founded by myself and Alejandro Ramos to channel intensive efforts to solve the water and sanitation crisis, after learning the issues related to water scarcity around the world, and how lack of water and sanitation are necessary for development and health.’

    Watering Earth is currently working on a project in Cameroon that will benefit some 3 000 people at an estimated price tag of US$15 000. ‘This project aims to provide clean, safe water to schools and villages at a very reasonable cost,’ says Groeger.

    ‘We are working with two partners to enable this project. Two local villagers will fly to the Congo to receive training on manual well drilling before returning to Cameroon to start drilling water wells along with the locals.

    ‘This model will provide local employment opportunities as well as cost-effective and sustainable access to clean water. It will also encourage community involvement, which is critical to sustainability.’

    The more people are educated about water scarcity and prepared to conserve this limited resource, the closer the world gets to ensuring that there will be enough of it to go around in years to come.

    By Toni Muir
    Image: Water.org