University of the Free State: More cities may follow Gqeberha in running out of water

With Gqeberha facing Day Zero – the moment when the taps in this drought-stricken coastal city will run dry – more cities may follow as Durban is already making use of water shedding and Port Shepstone is teetering on the brink of social unrest over service disruption.

Should Gqeberha’s taps run dry, it will be the first South African metro to run out of water. This comes only a few years after Cape Town announced it was nearing Day Zero – something that the City of Cape Town averted with water-saving initiatives.

Prof Anthony Turton, a water expert from the University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Environmental Management, says this is a national phenomenon, but with local focal points as water scarcity is a reality in other South African cities. “Durban will now be water shedding for at least the next year as it struggles to restore services. All coastal cities have run out of water. By 2025 there was projected to be a national deficit of 2044 million m³ per annum. Note the KwaZulu-Natal deficit is over 700 m³. Note the only surplus was from sewage flows into the Crocodile. This was all known in 2002. All those projections have been true,” says Prof Turton.

Reasons behind the dry taps

According to news reports, two Eastern Cape dams – Churchill and Impofu – collectively have about six days of water left. Loerie Dam has 19 days of water remaining, while Groendal has 166 days left. The water crisis will have a devastating effect on the city’s economy. “In my personal opinion, Gqeberga’s local economy will not survive as we once knew it,” says Prof Turton.

Though Gqeberha has been in the grip of a long-lasting drought and losing an estimated about a third of its water supply to leaking piping with a backlog of about 3,000 unfixed leaks, Prof Turton believes the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment is also to blame for the current problems. Cadre deployment, according to him, has purged all of the technically competent people from the system to make way for the cadres.

Running out of drinking water

Prof Turton remains optimistic that the situation is not totally hopeless, however, saying there is always time to fix it, as we have not yet hit rock bottom. The country’s water problem can only be resolved if the ANC to acknowledge that there is a problem and stop blaming the drought or other factors. We need to accept that cadre deployment is a failed policy.
“Water for drinking is small water – only 2 litre per person per day. Water for living is medium water – 200 litres per person per day. Water for food is big water – 2 000 litres per person per day. We will starve before we die of thirst.”