South Africa: A Perfect Storm Is Gathering - South Africa's Perpetual Water Crisis


Scarce water resources, badly planned and poorly maintained infrastructure, and a financing system based on the commodification of water through water tariffs, contribute to a perfect storm gathering.

The Cape Town water crisis was averted, temporarily, but taps in other parts of South Africa have run dry. To grapple with the country's ongoing water problems, we need to understand structural failure in the system.

The infrastructure of our cities is based on the outdated notion that there is plenty of water for all uses, including flushing our sewage to the waste treatment works. While some retooling has been done, the fundamental structural problem remains: the design of water systems assume there is enough sustainable water for them to continue functioning.

However, climate models predict that the country will receive less rain and experience higher temperatures in the future, further limiting water supply.

The problem will not be resolved without a combination of investment in more water-wise infrastructure and behavioural change to reduce increasing demands on dwindling supply.

Investment in such infrastructure is a challenge because South Africa faces the problem of a financing system for municipal water that is unsustainable. The failures of this system are apparent across the country,...

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