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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Getting Water to the People

Mantoe Phakathi

MANZINI, Swaziland, Jun 29 2011 (IPS) - The Southern African region is underutilising its water – a resource to which its citizens already have limited access.

A flood of obstacles ... Professor Mike Muller outlines the water challenges.  Credit: Marianne Pretorius/IPS

A flood of obstacles ... Professor Mike Muller outlines the water challenges. Credit: Marianne Pretorius/IPS

Professor Mike Muller from the Global Water Partnership told experts in water, environment, climate change and civil society organisations from Southern Africa that getting water to people is the biggest obstacle among Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

“It’s true that Southern African countries are water stressed,” said Muller. “It’s going to get worse with the increase in population and the impact of climate change.” This has resulted to increasing poverty and water insecurity in the region, said Muller, at the SADC Water Dialogue held from Jun. 28 to 29 in Manzini.

He said while the perception is that countries with vast amounts of deserts, such as Botswana and Namibia, are the ones that do not have adequate amounts of water per person, the reality is that South Africa and Malawi are leading the pack in terms of lack of access to water.

The trick is the amount of investment in water infrastructure and how to get it closer to the people, a strength all SADC countries lack.

Although Mozambique is leading the pack in water availability with 11,320 cubic metres per person per year, the country is only using 0.3 percent of its resources. Out of its 1,110 cubic metres per person per year South Africa uses 31 percent of its resources and it is the top country in water utilising.

He said the region has failed to exploit its water resources to produce enough food through agriculture and hydro-energy. “Industrial agriculture could transform the region,” he said.

In fact, when there is adequate water use to promote agriculture, the region could also realise energy efficiency through bio-energy. He said companies in the sugarcane business are also able to produce ethanol.

Muller said the Lower Usuthu Downstream Development Project (Lusip) is a fine example of regional water integration and utilisation. Lusip results from a cooperation of three governments Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, to utilise the Great Usuthu River for agricultural enterprises in Swaziland.

While the Swazi government built the dam for the benefit of its poor rural communities around Siphofaneni, the Great Usuthu River is based in South Africa and the water is allowed to flow into Swaziland. In return, Swaziland allows a flow into Mozambique. Muller said water should be used not just for profits but to also improve livelihoods – hence the participation of communities is very crucial.

“Communities were involved to participate meaningfully right from the planning stages of Lusip,” said Gugulethu Hlophe, acting chief executive officer at Swaziland Water and Agricultural Enterprises.

Swazi minister of natural resources and energy Princess Tsandzile, who opened the dialogue, said Lusip and the Komati Basin Downstream Development from the Komati River are transforming livelihoods.

Although building dams is an expensive initiative, said Bogadi Mathangwane, deputy director of Water Affairs in Botswana, governments have seen the need to invest in water infrastructure.

“The challenge with getting water to the people is that you find that some villages are very far from the infrastructure and getting the water to the people tends to be very expensive,” said Mathangwane.

The dialogue is key to the issue of infrastructure development because the 15 SADC countries are finding ways of tapping into climate finance, given that their governments do not have adequate budgets to invest in water infrastructure.

“Although there is funding available for climate change, accessing them is very difficult because the water sector is fragmented among different departments in our countries,” said Mathangwane.

Muller advised that the water sector in the region should get its house in order before other departments could get involved.

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