Past, present and future perspectives

Access to freshwater in Southern Africa

Click to enlarge

Figure 2e.8: Water use by sector in Southern Africa, 1900-2025

Source: Shiklomanov 1999

With such intense and varied pressures on freshwater ecosystems, southern Africa faces a serious water supply challenge. This is exacerbated by rapid population growth, high rates of urbanization, and imperatives of economic development and social equity, causing an increase in demand for agricultural, industrial and domestic water uses. At present, agriculture accounts for 74 per cent of southern Africa's total water use, domestic users account for 17 per cent and industry accounts for 9 per cent (UNDP and others 2000). The rapid rise in demand for water is best illustrated in South Africa where, although 4.3 million households do not have water services, the increase in domestic demand over the past four decades has been four times greater than that of the agricultural sector. The domestic demand in South Africa is projected to increase to 23 per cent of the total by 2030, an increase of more than 200 per cent since 1996 (DEA&T 1999). Current projections estimate that serious shortfalls in water provision will occur within the next 10-20 years. Figure 2e.8 shows the current and predicted trends in water use by all sectors in southern Africa.

Some urban water distribution networks in southern Africa are poorly maintained and highly inefficient. In South Africa, for example, the supplier Rand Water estimates that up to 70 per cent of water is lost every year from the Soweto supply, due to leakages, costing US$100 800 per day (UNCHS/UNEP 2001). Similarly, irrigation is said to be less than 50 per cent efficient, with the majority of farms being irrigated by wasteful flooding and overhead sprinkler systems, while only 10 per cent use the more efficient microjet and drip irrigation systems (Chenje 2000). Mozambique has larger water resources than other countries in the sub-region, yet access to potable and irrigation water is more limited than in the drier countries, mainly due to infrastructure damage from the long civil war (IUCN 2000).

Improving availability and access to freshwater in Southern Africa

The response to this situation over the past 30 years has been to dam or to modify nearly all the water courses in the sub-region, in order to meet demand. Southern Africa has the highest concentration of dams and interbasin transfer schemes anywhere in Africa (World Commission on Dams 2001). The Kariba Dam, for example, located on the Zambezi River, and shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe, has a capacity of 180 km3. With a surface area of some 5 500 km2, it is one of the largest dams in the world. It was constructed primarily to provide hydropower to the two countries, and has a generation capacity of 1 320 MW (Soils Incorporated (Pty) Ltd and Chalo Environmental and Sustainable Development Consultants 2000).

Significant strides have been made towards the development of infrastructure for water supply and sanitation services. Access to safe drinking water improved from an average figure of 52.6 per cent in 1990 (WRI, UNEP and UNDP 1990) to 58 per cent in 1998 (WRI, UNEP, UNDP and World Bank 1998). Such access, however, varies between rural and urban areas, with the latter enjoying better access. There are also disparities between countries, with the greatest access to water in Botswana (95 per cent) and the least access in Angola (38 per cent) (WHO/UNICEF 2000). Water policies need revising to redress this issue, combining demand management (using economic incentives to control usage) with meeting basic needs (through improved equity in access and supply). South Africa has enacted such legislation, in the form of the National Water Act, Act 36 of 1998. In Windhoek, Namibia, water tariffs were increased in 1996 by 30 per cent, and household water consumption exceeding 60 m3/month was penalized with even higher rates, with the effect of reducing average water consumption by 25 per cent (Eales, Forster and Du Mhango 1996).

In addition, countries of southern Africa have made considerable efforts to cooperate in the management of shared water resources (see Box 2e.9). At the national level, countries have also made a shift towards IWRM and true cost pricing, in order to control demand. Instruments invoked to effect this include the removal of subsidies, and cost recovery from consumers. In Namibia, for example, subsidies-including those on water-accounted for 1 per cent of GDP in 1993 (IUCN 2000), but have gradually been lifted, while, in Zimbabwe, most large-scale and smallholder farmers used not to pay for irrigation water at all. The reuse of wastewater is being increasingly considered as a step towards IWRM in the region. The city of Windhoek already treats and reuses water to supply 19 per cent of the 42 510 m3 that the city uses every day (IUCN 2000).

Box 2e.9 Mechanisms for international cooperation over shared water resources in Southern Africa

Rising demand for water resources has the potential for conflict between user groups and between countries where water resources are shared. To ensure close cooperation for the judicious, sustainable and coordinated use of shared watercourses, the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems was developed and came into force in 1998. In addition to the protocol, there are also several bilateral agreements to facilitate sharing of water resources. These include:

  • the Zambezi River Action Plan, between Zambia and Zimbabwe;
  • the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission;
  • the Joint Permanent Technical Commission Over the Lesotho Highlands Water Project; and
  • the Permanent Joint Technical Commission on the Cunene River.

Cooperation has also been developed in the areas of research and hydrometeorological data, through SADC-HYCOS. Whilst there is commitment and cooperation at the sub-regional political level, further capacity needs to be built, in order to effectively implement the tenet of shared water management at grassroots level.

Source: SADC 2000