The City of Cape Town nearly reached Day Zero in April but was pushed to at least 2019 thanks to the rain and strict use of water.
Day Zero would have meant dry water taps in the seaside town and a major tourist destination, escalating the water problem that has been persistent for over three years now.
Officials had predicted that the city will run out of water on May 11,2018 but that date has since been pushed indefinitely. But Day Zero still remains a threat to watch.
Early this year, Cape Town inhabitants were limited to just 13 gallons of water per day per person, while water use for agriculture has been reduced significantly, says Ian Neilson, the city’s executive deputy mayor.
Currently, dams supplying the city are over 60% full and the daily water use is being maintained at about 500 million litres per day, which represents a 55% saving in water use compared to January 2015.
But while Cape Town continues to grapple with water shortage, experts believe that most African cities are likely to face the same fate.
“Cape Town is not going to be the only city on this continent that’s going to suffer significant water shortage,” Says Jean-Pierre Labuschagne, an infrastructure expert with global accounting firm Deloitte.
In February this year, Kenya said that it was banking on April long rains to avoid acute water shortage in the capital Nairobi.
The city was being supplied with 505,000 cubic metres of water a day, against a demand of 760,000 cubic metres a day forcing the Nairobi Water and Sewerage company to ration water through the equitable distribution programme.
“Cape Town is not going to be the only city on this continent that’s going to suffer significant water shortage-Says Jean“–Pierre Labuschagne.
The Ghana Water Company on the other hand early January announced that it would ration water in the capital, Accra, and other parts of the country due to insufficient rain and pollution of water bodies.
“We are sorry to inform the consuming public that the situation has led to intermittent water supply in most cities and towns in the country,” said Stanley Martey, communications director of the national company. The rate of evaporation of water bodies nationwide has become alarming and there will be consequences for some communities, he said at the time.
Water rationing could be a short term measure to manage water crisis in Africa, but for Mr Labuschagne, water infrastructure must be given top priority.
“African cities need to better plan and invest in water infrastructure otherwise the situation will continue to be a perennial one,” he says.
This sentiment is shared by Shainaz Jamal, director of Wettech Africa a firm that specializes in wastewater treatment and recycling.
“Most African countries have not invested substantial resources in water infrastructure. What we have today is basically what our colonial masters left in the 1960’s,” observes Jamal.
Nairobi’s water system for example was planned for a population of about half a million people, but it now has more than 4 million people.
Ms Jamal says that high levels of rural to urban migration had made it hard for many cities in Africa to plan well and expand infrastructure fast enough to accommodate increased numbers of people, most of whom ended up living in informal settlements.
And with poor water infrastructure, water companies face other challenges in the form of non-revenue water.
“A lot of revenue is lost through leakages, illegal connections,poor billing systems and unmetered customers,” says Dr Suraj Dhanani director at Danco Capital a water solution firm based in Kenya.
The net effect of these problem is that they deny water companies the much needed revenues to be efficient in their work, he says.
A new report dubbed Non-Revenue Water Audit for Water Service Providers (WSPs), confirm Dr Dhanani’s arguments.
The report released this month revealed that water worth Ksh256 million is lost yearly in Kenya.
“It was found that many of the water production flows were not accurately measured, and System Input was based partly on flows estimated generally from a treatment works design capacity and hours run,” reads the report in part.
But expanding urban population means that quick measures should be put implemented to ensure that proper water systems are put in place to avoid a sitiation similar to that of Cape Town.
According to Water Resources Group water demand could potentially outpace supply by 2030.
“Tackling water loss before reaching consumers whould be the first step of addressing water problem in Africa,” shares Dr Dhanani.
“We are encouraging water companies to use HDPE Pipes to connect water to homes. This significantly reduce water loss through leakages as opposed to PVC pipes that are prone to water leakages.”
While boreholes can be good source of water for an ever increasing urban population, the problem is that majority of these boreholes are contaminated and cannot provide safe drinking water. This requires that water from boreholes must be treated before consumption.
For Ms Jamal, wastewater treatment and recycling coupled with effective water management can be a game changer in Africa.
“It means that we can reuse water over and over again. In the final analysis you will discover that households will only use 10% of fresh water on a daily basis which is a good way of water management,” she explains.
Dr Dhanani agrees saying that the issue of waste water treatment should especially be implemented by factories across the country but especially in cities.
National environmental watchdog Nema should be given enough resources to ensure that they can make impromptu visits to factories to check compliance, he advises.
If wastewater treatment and recycling is the way to go then African countries can learn from cities such as Singapore which meets 40% of its total water demand with high-quality treated wastewater.
Israel on the other hand may be a desert country with a serious lack of water but the technology of water treatment and recycling has enabled the country reuse 90 percent of the wastewater it generates making it the leading nation in water recycling.
For majority of African cities water harvesting from rains can be the most cheap and viable solution to water problems facing the continent.It is common to see flash floods every year in Africa but the water goes to waste.
African countries suffering or facing water shortages as a result of climate change have a massive potential in rainwater harvesting, with nations like Ethiopia and Kenya capable of meeting the needs of six to seven times their current populations, according to a United Nations report.
Some countries have fronted the idea of building desalination plants to make sea water drinkable but this comes with heavy cost that majority of African countries cannot afford.
Still, large-scale infrastructure can often by-pass the needs of poor and dispersed populations.
Widely deployed, rainwater harvesting can act as a buffer against drought events for these people while also significantly supplementing supplies in cities and areas connected to the water grid
Yet effective water management can help save African countries millions of dollars that can be used in other equally important social economic projects.
“I believe the real problem is the management of South Africa’s water which is affecting the entire country’s water system. The Cape Town situation has laid bare the inadequacies in the country’s water management regimes,”says Magalie Bourblanc a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria.
To effectively manage water, African countries must have the capacity to produce highly skilled water professionals.
“This describes anyone involved in the management of water. It could range from a person who manages a city’s sanitation services to a hydrologist generating data to help guide national water policies,” says Nelson Odume a Researcher at Rhodes University.
For Jamal, over and above enhanced water management African governments must ensure good water Legislation is passed to aid in water policy formulation.
Majority of the legislation that can support water development are either not there or are ignored, says Jamal.
Little focus on water by most African countries has led to small budgetary allocation to research and development.
South Africa invests the most of any African country among the organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. But even this is still less than 1% of its GDP, well below most other OECD nations.
Indeed, the United Nations observes that the water crisis in Africa is more of an economic problem from lack of investment, and not a matter of physical scarcity.
“There is no silver bullet to addressing water challenges in Africa. Every one should be involved and this means involving the government, the private sector and the citizenry,” urges Dr Dhanani.