South Africa is facing a water crisis that threatens to spark social unrest and cripple the economy, with parts of the country already facing shortages.

South African Water Crisis Dripping tap

South Africa’s water crisis can crush the economy and spark social unrest

Water has become an issue on par with the country’s electricity and logistics crises. Experts warn that water boards are in a death spiral and estimate that it would take R1 trillion to fix the crisis.

Independent political analyst JP Landman said that over the past year, water has severely constrained South Africa’s economy. Gauteng, in particular, has been hard hit.

Shortages since the middle of last year

South Africa’s economic hub has experienced sustained water shortages since the middle of last year.

Rand Water told three municipalities in the central Gauteng province – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – that its system was on the verge of collapse.

Large parts of Johannesburg were left without water for up to 11 days at a time in March after lightning struck a pumping station.

44% losses due to leaks and theft

Johannesburg Water, which distributes water in the city, loses around 44% of the volume supplied to it to leaks and theft.

“The more that Rand Water pumps into this leaking sieve, the more they are depleting their reservoirs,” said a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, Anthony Turton said.

“The system is now starting to self-destruct,” he warned.

Anthony Turton Prof Free State Water Crisis

Anthony Turton, professor at the University of the Free State

Turton said that water shortages in Gauteng threaten the country’s economy and risk resulting in social unrest.

“Water shortages are part of a new trend where we can see that our infrastructure is not in healthy shape at all, and politicians are only waking up now.”

“In the case of Gauteng, it is a very specific issue because three major metros contain a significant portion of our national manufacturing capacity. They are all at risk from water supply disruptions.”

This will result in the province reaching a ‘threshold of concern’ which, once crossed, will put the system at serious risk of collapse, which is unprecedented.

“Of course, when water supply is disrupted, businesses cannot operate. It means that there will also be an impact on the workforce,” he said.

“You must appreciate that water is the foundation of your national economy. It is the foundation of social stability.”

“Once your water infrastructure starts collapsing, you start to see things like social instability, the flight of capital out of the country, businesses collapsing, and the loss of jobs.”

“This is a national crisis. It is an existential threat to the very viability of our national economy,” Turton said.

The death spiral

JP Landman Independent Political Analyst

Independent political analyst JP Landman

Landman echoed many of Turton’s concerns, adding that he thinks water boards are entering a death spiral in a similar form to Eskom and Transnet.

“There is no quesiton about it. You can see the road map as clearly as you can see the stars. It is very clear that is where we are going with water,” he said.

It is going to be a situation where the private sector will have to come in and help with both the water infrastructure and the distribution of water.

This is due to the water boards, which control the supply of water across the country, entering a death spiral thanks to rising prices and declining provision.

Landman likened what the country’s water boards are doing to what has happened with Eskom and electricity prices.

“Say you are Eskom. You charge a price for the service, but then there’s a problem with the service. Now you’ve got to increase the price. Because you increase the price, fewer people buy it, and because fewer people buy it, you raise the price, then you are in a death spiral.”

“Now that’s clearly what’s happening with Eskom. And the only way out of this death spiral is the is what we’re doing, the breaking up and so on.”

Landman said the same thing is happening to water distribution in South Africa, with municipalities and water boards trying to pass on price increases to customers while failing to provide the service.

“That model is in a death spiral, and it will be replaced.”

Article by Shaun Jacobs from Daily Investor