“The story for us started in 2015 when there was a national drought that crippled everything”, says Nomzamo Kheswa. She is the head of the Siyazisiza Trust, an organization established in 1987 to support small-scale farmers in improving their livelihoods, food security and the environment. South Africa is already severely impacted by droughts. In the coming years, they are projected to become even more frequent due to climate change. Small-scale farmers like Phumzile Ntuli are suffering from prolonged droughts as their crops and fruits are not growing. Butternuts, which she and other members of the Qalekhaya Cooperative are usually harvesting around October and selling at markets until January, simply did not survive the excessive heat this year.
Under the uMhlathuze Water Stewardship Partnership, Local Good Agricultural Practices (LocalG.A.P.) trainings were conducted to eight members of the Syazisiza Trust, certifying them as GlobalG.A.P. Farm Assurers. With the knowledge gained, they were able to train 50 local small-scale farmers from the uMhlathuze Catchment in LocalG.A.P. best practices.
The trainings enable farmers to improve their water management and to achieve better harvests, while also strengthening their economic position, as the certification opens up markets for them.
25 November 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives and livelihoods of millions in South Africa and around the world. The economic effects of the pandemic cannot be overstated. While South Africa’s economic growth is expected to rebound to 4% in 2021, this is on the back of a 7% contraction in 2020. This challenge presents an opportunity to build back better towards a green and sustainable future for all. The South African water sector offers huge potential for enabling economic recovery, combined with a quick turnaround, to ensure a greener economy post COVID-19.
How this recovery can be achieved was the focus of the 7th Annual Water Stewardship Conference, which took place in two morning sessions on 23 and 24 November 2021. The event brought together representatives from government, industry, civil society and development partners to explore how investments in South Africa’s water sector can be leveraged to generate sustained economic growth, employment and long-term wellbeing.
Jointly hosted by the National Business Initiative (NBI), the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), the Royal Danish Embassy and supported by GIZ’s Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), the event builds on the momentum of last year’s consultations, which focused on Good Governance for Green Recovery: Stewardship in a Post-COVID Water Sector.
This year’s topic of “Water Stewardship in Action: A Journey to Economic Recovery”, unpacked what needs to be done to create robust governance for sustainable economic recovery and the national levers for anchoring water stewardship action to ensure initiatives and water investments support a post-COVID 19 green recovery.
The first day of the event sought to inspire further action and collaboration on the journey to economic recovery. The focus was on the economic regulation of water, ongoing structural reforms for enhanced management of the water sector and the economics of ecosystems. The second day highlighted the global discourse on stewardship and the numerous water stewardship initiatives taking place from local to national scale across the country. It also profiled the distinct work occurring at each level.
Why is a Green Economic Recovery Important?
The South African water sector struggles with financial challenges and capacity restrictions, constraining its ability to bridge the service delivery gap, a situation exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges are further aggravated by a lack of accountability linked to the governance, management, and oversight of the sector itself.
The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan indicates that only 65 percent of South Africans have access to safe and reliable water services, while 14.1 million people lack access to decent sanitation. Yet, the Master Plan also contains the solutions to address these issues, stating: “A turn-around towards financial sustainability is not optional.” The Master Plans also calls for enhanced revenue streams combined with cost reduction and explores different funding models and innovative technologies. Importantly, it also gives the private sector an opportunity to invest in water and wastewater projects.
With water as a key enabler of economic growth, there is an opportunity to leverage green and sustainable investments in the sector to support South Africa’s efforts to build back better. Further, partnerships between government, the private sector, academia as well as national and international financing institutions and facilities provides the institutional and financial strength to get it done.
Honourable Dikeledi Magadzi, Deputy Minister of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), who spoke at the virtual event says: “COVID-19 has not only deeply affected the physical health of our country. It has exposed the big challenges we as a nation are still facing. Inequality, economic vulnerability, the lack of access to services and the lack of accountability. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the water sector to embrace the power of partnerships between private, public and civil society to collaboratively work together to close the water gap through taking a water stewardship approach.”
What does A Journey to Economic Recovery look like?
The COVID-19 pandemic has required collaborative action between Government, businesses and communities to identify critical blockages and ensure sustainable economic recovery that advances the green economy. A key aspect of the green economy is that it achieves water security. Opportunities for sustainable investing in South Africa’s infrastructure are abundant, including in the water, agriculture and energy sectors. Leveraging green finance may be the best way to tap into more resources from domestic and foreign institutional investors now that sustainable investment is a growing necessity.
Robust governance is a crucial enabler if green economic recovery is to be achieved in the South Africa’s water sector. Well governed institutions improve performance and bring about much-needed stability and recovery. In the public sector, the need for greater transparency in decision making, improved financial management and technical capacity at both national and municipal levels is needed. In the private sector, the focus on corporate accountability needs to remain high on the sustainability agenda with more stringent criteria required for corporate leadership on water security.
Through the promotion of community led good governance practice, communities can be equipped and informed on how to both engage with government and private sector stakeholders, as well as hold them to account for specific actions linked to water conservation and demand management. Examples of such action include participatory budgeting processes, greater transparency, deepening understanding of procurement systems and participation in project planning and design. This would ensure strategic links between economic development and natural resource protection and encourage greater ownership of initiatives.
Wetlands in Uganda form a unique ecosystem that supports diverse animal and plant life, and contain, store, and purify large quantities of water flows in the catchments of Lake Victoria basin. However, the basin is experiencing rapid population growth, and destructive anthropogenic activities. Examples are unplanned urban settlements and inappropriate agricultural practices, which are the biggest drivers for the deteriorating water quality and degradation of precious wetland ecosystems in the area. One water-intensive and dependant sector present in the area is the floriculture sector – 13 out of 15 commercial flower farms in the country are located in Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA) around the Lake Victoria basin.
Protecting water and wetland ecosystems
The flower industry in Uganda provides employment opportunities, foreign exchange, and domestic revenue to the Ugandan economy. According to the Uganda Flower Exporters Association, the industry’s investments in GKMA are estimated at USD 100 Million, providing about 10,000 jobs to people, of which 80 per cent are women. With the increasing expansion of the industry coupled with rapid population increase around GKMA, the pressure on water and wetland resources has increased. To safeguard the investments of the commercial flower farms, the jobs they provide to the people, and to maintain the ecological functions of the water and wetland ecosystems, there is a need to strengthen collaboration and coordination by the commercial flower farms, the government institutions and non-state actors for sustainable use and management of water and wetland resources in GKMA.
The Commercial Flower Farms Integrated Catchment Management Partnership
The Commercial Flower Farms Integrated Catchment Management Partnership aims at strengthening collaboration between the public, private sector, and non-state actors in the flower industry for sustainable use of natural resources in GKMA. The partners are the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), NatureUganda (a conservation organisation) and the Uganda Flower Exporters Association (UFEA) that coordinates and mobilises the 13 commercial flower farms in Greater Kampala. Together, the partners aim at:
improving the commercial flower farms’ compliance to national water and environmental regulations alongside international standards
strengthening occupational safety, health and environmental management practices by the flower farms and surrounding communities to foster better working conditions and safeguard jobs
reducing waste generated from both farms and communities around the wetland systems in the area
promoting wise use of water and wetland resources around commercial flower farms
Compliance support to the Commercial Flower Farms
On November 16th, 2021, key partners and focal points appointed by the commercial flower farms for this partnership, gathered for a meeting at the Water Resources Institute of the Ministry of Water and Environment. The objective of the meeting was to understand the water and environmental regulatory requirements (including procedures and processes) to be undertaken in acquiring the different water abstraction permits and certificates to operate by the Commercial flower farms
The meeting was also an opportunity for the commercial flower farms focal persons to provide feedback to the government agencies on the current challenges they face in the process of complying with national regulations. The focal persons then visited the Ministry of Water and Environment’s National Water Quality laboratory, a state-of-the-art laboratory for water analysis to learn about the services offered and how they can make use of the laboratory in their compliance activities.
Ensuring compliance to water and environmental regulations
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is mandated to regulate, monitor, supervise and coordinate all activities related to the environment, including the activities of the commercial flower farms. Dr. Jerome Lugumira, the partnership focal person from NEMA, presented the relevant provisions of the National Environment Act 2019, subordinate regulations, standards and guidelines that the flower farms have to comply with. He pledged NEMA’s continued compliance support to the flower farms in order to improve compliance to environment regulations for sustainable use of natural resources in GKMA
Similarly, water regulation through the permit system is one of the core functions of the Directorate of Water Resources Management (DWRM). Ms. Sylvia Nanyunja, the partnership focal person from DWRM gave a presentation on the processes to obtain and renew water permits for surface, ground water and wastewater discharge permits. She highlighted the terms, costs and the procedure to obtain and renew the different permits as provided in the National Water policy and the Water Action Plan.
Referring to the Uganda Wetlands Atlas, covering greater Kampala, Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga (Executive Director of NatureUganda) highlighted NatureUganda’s continued collaboration with the Wetlands Management Department of the Ministry of Water and Environment (Partnership Chair) in promoting wise use of wetlands, their restoration and biodiversity monitoring.
Key take-aways from the meeting
Regular compliance support needs to be provided to the commercial flower farms to improve environmental and social performance of the commercial flower farms.
There is a need to improve information flow between the regulatory bodies and the commercial flower farms
Knowledge sharing on best practices among commercial flower farms should be initiated.
What are the reasons if cities experience a big discrepancy between their calculated water demand and actual water consumption? Non-revenue water through leakages? Illegal water connections? A mistake in the calculations?
In 2019, the City of uMhlathuze experienced exactly this problem. A gap analysis commissioned by NatuReS confirmed the urgent need for the municipality to act on the improvement of water supply to traditionally managed areas, while decrease the unbilled consumption. To meet this objective, two pilot studies were undertaken, using drone technology to measure population increase, calculate average per capita water consumption, understand the extent of water losses and improve planning. All this aimed at increasing water supply.
Increase water supply by gathering data from drone images
The village of Gobandluvo and Vulindlela were chosen as pilot areas to determine the population and subsequent water demand, using Remote Pilot Aircraft System (RPAS) technology, also known as drone technology.
Aerial photos of Gobandluvo were compiled from autonomous drone flight information, indicating the most recent developments. The aerial photos were geo-referenced over the existing zonal areas, as well as over the two project focus areas. From these photos, the represented structures were counted and divided into the following categories: households, rental rooms, student housing and schools. This information was then used to calculate the theoretical water demand and compared to the actual water demand in the area.
Findings guide targeted interventions
The findings of the investigation highlighted that the population had increased dramatically from the most recent census in 2011, which consequently influenced the water demand calculations. The area of Gobandlovu, marked as “High Water Loss Area”, requiring a high priority for water conservation intervention, was found to be close to expected water consumption per capita standards. However, the population of Gobandlovu was three times higher than the 2011 census. The municipality had assumed that the area had a high per-capita consumption, which it didn’t. Simply, the size of the population in the area had tripled and with it the water demand. An additional problem was the number of illegal and unbilled connections, which have a negative fiscal impact on the municipality.
With the obtained information gained from drone technology, the municipality can now decide on targeted actions to e.g. reduce illegal connections or upgrade the infrastructure to meet communities’ demand.
The way forward
As the pilot intervention represented a big success, NatuReS donated a drone to the municipality and is supporting three municipal officials in obtaining their drone licenses. This will help the municipality to carry out similar exercises in other areas, and additionally use the drone for more interventions like:
Leak detection – using infrared camera
Point leak detection – for high level reservoirs
River flow investigation – discover illegal structures
Surveillance over invasive plant species
Construction management progress reports
This will tremendously improve the service delivery and development planning for communities, as well as water demand management, budgetary planning and water loss reduction in the City of uMhalthuze.