South Africans Constitutional Right: Environment

Everyone has the right

(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and

(b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that –

(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

(ii) promote conservation; and

(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.


“Innovative solutions for a water-scarce SA possible, but action must start now”

South Africa’s water crisis presents us with “an enormous range of opportunities” and should not be seen only as “insurmountable problems”.

However, that also implies that the country should start making innovative plans now if it wants to achieve national water security in 15 years’ time. The options available could include everything from building pipelines from the water-rich Congo to small-scale trapping of fog and mist.

Speaking is CSIR principal scientist Dr Peter Ashton, after he took part as one of the specialist speakers in a country-wide seminar series on the country’s water crisis presented by the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing giant, Merck South Africa.

Water crisis dimensions

Ashton said the dimensions of the water crisis need to be seen in terms of availability, quality and security: “In South Africa, water is usually found in one of three forms, there is either too much, or there is too little, or it is too dirty.”

If one considers that the country already captures nearly 74% of all runoff and that there simply are very few suitable sites left to build more large dams, the need for strategic alternatives becomes evident. South Africa already has 497 large dams and over 5 000 smaller dams, placing it 11th on the international scale of the number of large dams per country.

However, we cannot go on as usual: “Over 95% of our water resources are already allocated to existing uses. With our available water resources and at the current rate of economic and population growth, we will find ourselves in a water scarce situation by 2025, even if we maximise water recycling and develop new water storage and treatment facilities,” he warns.

Expecting South Africa to be a ‘water secure’ country is unrealistic if we continue with a ‘business as usual’ approach. However, the country can be structurally water secure if it starts planning now.

‘Structural’ water security implies looking at innovative solutions to our water supply and water storage problems.


Change of perception

Ashton feels very strongly that national water security can only be achieved if water is viewed as a public good: “Changing our attitude towards water is the first step on the road to achieving water security. For example, we need to stop using good quality tap water to water the garden with a sprayer for hours on end.

“Water is a scarce and essential public good – therefore it is a public responsibility and some public finance is essential to achieve water security. Water management should not only include the local public, government, industry, non-government organisations or agriculture. It should also, and foremost, include the silent generations – our children and our children’s children. Only then can we come up with strategic visions to plan for water security for generations to come.”


Possible solutions

Ashton suggests that innovative solutions in the following key areas are necessary to secure a water rich South Africa in the future:

Extensive additional water supply infrastructure is needed throughout the country, as well as improved maintenance of existing systems
There should be greater focus on water quality and improved pollution control throughout the country
Catchment management agencies should be better resourced
Management processes and the efficient use of ground water should be improved
There should be greater application of water conservation and demand management
South Africa has to improve interactions with neighbouring countries on shared river basins.
Possible new sources of water could include the desalination or direct use of seawater; importing water from the Congo or Zambezi rivers via pipelines and canals; bringing water from the mouth of the Congo River in massive containers – such as plastic bags – towed by barges; accessing deep groundwater; transporting icebergs to the Cape; trapping fog and mist; modifying rainfall patterns; or reducing evaporation through new water storage systems underground, for example.

The alternative, or ‘business as usual’ approach, will see prolonged and severe water shortages in the drier regions of the country; the deterioration of certain rivers if their ecological flows cannot be kept up; less water for our neighbours in shared river basins; increased water quality problems; and eventually, increased conflict between users trying to access progressively scarcer water resources.

The bottom line to achieving a water-secure future remains the same: “We have to change the way we value and use water.”

No human life without water

“We shall not finally defeat Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria, or any other Infectious diseases that plague the developing world, until we have also won the battle for Safe Drinking Water, Sanitation and Basic Health Care” Kofi Annan, United Nations.


There is no human life without water.  “By means of water” says the Koran, “we give life to everything.”

Water scarcity is one of the greatest threats to the way we live today and ultimately the preservation of the human race.  With ongoing environmental concerns and resulting climate changes, the problems surrounding water scarcity and conservation is growing at an alarming rate.

Today there are:

* 1.1 billion people living without clean drinking water
* 2.6 billion people lacking adequate sanitation
* 1.8 million people dying every year from diarrhea diseases
* 900 children dying every day from waterborne diseases

Poor hygiene and sanitation kills more people in the world than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined; and more than any war claims through guns. Globally, dysentery caused by unclean water and poor sanitation accounts for the vast majority of the 1.8 million child deaths each year.  Put simply, diarrhea from unclean water is the second largest cause of child mortality.


“As the Global Economy grows, so will its thirst.  This is not an issue of rich, poor, north or south.  All regions are experiencing the problem of water stress.  There is still enough water for all of us – but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely and share it fairly.  Governments must engage and lead and the private sector also has a role to play in this effort.”  Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General United Nations.