Tag: south africa

Water-resilient cities learning event: “Groundwater – Making the invisible visible”

A dialogue and exchange on innovative approaches to groundwater management in African cities

How to improve the water resilience of African cities? To shed light on this important topic, the Water Resilient Cities Learning Event on 30 March 2022 promoted an exchange on groundwater – a water source that is increasingly being recognized and gaining importance as an alternative water source in addressing diminishing surface water, but remains poorly understood and undervalued.

Many African cities are facing rapid urbanization, droughts, and other threats and challenges to their water supply and are increasingly struggling to meet their water demands. These challenges have led to a greater interest towards tapping into groundwater for building water resilience – a water resource whose integration into most cities’ long term water resource management plans has been absent. While diversifying of water sources can be one of the measures for building urban water resilience, more attention needs to be given to the sustainable use of groundwater and to avoid turning to groundwater during a crisis in a rushed and unplanned manner, with limited knowledge about the use and management of this resource. In addition, protection of groundwater is often insufficient, leading to increased incidents of pollution.

Issues of integrated governance and management, pollution control, recharge, management of the reserve, and environmental requirements are pertinent to a sustainable use of groundwater.  Compared to surface water, groundwater issues have an added level of complexity, given its nature of being hidden, unnoticed, less understood, and the links between the resource and users not being obvious. Given that groundwater increasingly plays a strategic role in building water resilience for African cities, in particular for cities that are not able to meet their water demands through surface water sources, there is a need for enhanced dialogue on the new role of groundwater as well as sharing of innovative approaches towards its sustainable use and management.

To provide an exchange platform for African cities that are increasingly exploring groundwater resources as an alternative and additional source to meet their rising water demand and to become more resilient to droughts and the effects of climate change, a jointly organised event by South African Local Government Association (SALGA), the South African Cities Network (SACN), the USAID’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene Finance Program (WASH-FIN), and the GIZ‘s Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) intended to:

  • promote and unpack the discourse around the use of groundwater for water supply
  • discuss how groundwater can add to support cities’ water resilience and what are challenges around its use
  • highlight the innovative ways African cities are adopting to ensure sustainable management of groundwater sources in urban areas
  • provide an opportunity for lesson-sharing among managers and practitioners for improved groundwater management in cities

Keynote Address

For this, Eng. James Sauramba, Executive Director of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Groundwater Management Institute, provided an insightful keynote address on “Contextualising the significance of groundwater for sustainable conjunctive water resources management in urban areas in the SADC region” to set the scene of the event. To this end, he introduced the characteristics and challenges of groundwater use, gave some tangible examples of  case studies from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Windhoek, Namibia, and promoted a framework for sustainable conjunctive use and management of groundwater.

South African National Perspectives

Subsequently, the event shed light on the South African national perspectives. Dr. Moloko Matlala, Chief Director for National Water Resource Information Management at the South African Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), highlighted the “importance of sustainable management of groundwater as a freshwater resource”. He stressed the importance and potential of groundwater for South Africa, but also emphasized that the knowledge around it in the country is not, yet, where it needs to be to make responsible use of this resource for increased cities’ water resilience. The DWS aims at changing this to make the resource visible and bring government practitioners and other stakeholders to work together for its protection and use in a sustainable way.

Dr. Shafick Adams, Executive Manager for Water Resources and Ecosystems at the South African Water Research Commission (WRC) presented the “research findings on the sources and management of groundwater”.  He made emphasis on the point that groundwater is a very localised resource that is not readily available all over the country and continent. Furthermore, groundwater has been promoted lately, but, unfortunately, often incorrectly as there is an imbalance between (drilling) technology and the scientific understanding of the source. Certain factors for a better utilization are available (e.g. vison, resources) and certain things are already done rightly (e.g. procurement, drilling), while other aspects still need improvement (e.g. scientific approach, best practices, trained professionals).

This first session was then closed with a Q&A session facilitated by William Moraka, Head for Technology and Innovative Projects at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Questions circled around the “appetite” for groundwater and why there seems to be less attention for it, which are the hurdles improved groundwater management, and the relationship between the Water Research Commission and municipalities in exploring groundwater potential.

Analyses regarding the urban water metabolism and hydrologic flows in the cities of Cape Town (pictured) and Gqebhera were presented during the event, as well as developed groundwater governance recommendations. Copyright: GIZ/Jonas Kertscher

South African cities in action

The second session that was moderated by Amanda Nyingwa, Technical Advisor at GIZ’s Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS), looked at “South African Cities in Action”. The first input by Dr. Anna Taylor, Urban Climate Adaptation Research Fellow at the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), University of Cape Town (UCT), and Dr. Ffion Atkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), University of Cape Town (UCT), presented on “Governing groundwater flows for growing cities facing drought risks”. To answer the question “How can groundwater be sustainably governed in South African urban settings now and in the future, in order to enhance the adaptive capacity of cities facing climate and urban changes?” they analysed the cities of Cape Town and Gqebhera regarding their urban water metabolism and hydrologic flows and developed groundwater governance recommendations. Particularly, they emphasized that collaboration between different stakeholders is important, for them not only to make groundwater visible but also legible and have the population care about its quality and supply. Only then can this precious resource be adequately protected.

Thereafter, Ondela Tywakadi, Principal Specialist for Water Services Regulation and Policy Development at the City of Johannesburg gave an “Update on the City of Johannesburg‘s Water Security Strategy on groundwater initiatives”. He explained that Johannesburg is currently looking into diversifying its water supply sources to avoid a future day zero and is therefore exploring groundwater as an alternative source. For this aim, the city is conducting a study on available groundwater resources and hydro-geology data sources and characteristics by means of a data audit, while implementing the drilling of 27 new boreholes so far. He concluded that there is groundwater available that can be used for different purposes, but that it’s evident from the data that a decentralised approach is better than a bulk system. Further discussions with other private and government entities regarding access to groundwater sources are in the pipeline.

Johannesburg is currently looking into diversifying its water supply sources to avoid a future day zero and is therefore exploring groundwater as an alternative source. Copyright: GIZ/Jonas Kertscher

Learning across the region

The third session, facilitated by Amanda Gcanga, Country Lead for Urban Water Resilience Initiative & Senior Urban Policy Analyst at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research non-profit organization, looked at learning across the region through examples from other African cities and their stance towards groundwater. Kabisa Mwiyaluka, Engineer and Project Coordinator for Water Security at the Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company (LWSC), showcased the Lusaka West Groundwater Extraction Project in Zambia’s capital Lusaka. Lusaka’s water supply stems to 60% from groundwater. To meet the demands of the growing population while avoiding contamination, which is likely to spread fast across the city due to the geological formation of fast water flows, the city focuses on the identification of priority aquifers and wellfields for public water supply and how to best protect them. The multi-stakeholder partnership Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSI) helps to protect the key water resources through empowerment processes of communities while also bringing the private sector on board. Furthermore, eco-parks around the wellfields are supposed to prevent encroachment and pollution of vital water sources. Finally, the city is following a more localised rather than a centralised approach in its groundwater use, by dividing the boreholes into zones according to their geology, which further helps to protect them.

wellfield Lusaka
Two of Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company’s most important wellfields, accounting for 27% of groundwater supply (which is 60% of the total water supply to the city), were threatened by pollution. The Wellfield Protection Project under the Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSI) is addressing this issue. Pictured is Wellfield Shaft 5 pump house. Copyright: GIZ

Dr. Zablon Adane, Research Associate at the World Resources Institute (WRI), presented “Innovative and sustainable solutions for groundwater management in Dire Dawa” in Ethiopia, which is fully reliant on groundwater. The city is facing a groundwater decline, quality challenges, and data and infrastructure issues. Therefore, WRI explores innovative and sustainable solutions to balance the various water demands, improve the recharge rates, safeguard the water quality, improve treatment and recycling, and provide sustainable sources.

Furthermore, Marc Manyifika, Country Lead for Urban Water Resilience at the World Resources Institute (WRI), re-evaluated “The Role of Groundwater in Building Urban Water Resilience in Musanze City” in Rwanda. The city  is facing challenges due to a lack of knowledge on groundwater storage and its connectivity with surface water, as well as water quality degradation. To address these, opportunities around an underground network of caves, which are regulating the connectivity between the surface and groundwater, were identified. This included also the potential for stormwater management, flood control, inter-basin transfer, and recreational spaces for development in the city. Moreover, opportunities regarding water quality around ecological sanitary facilities development and nature-based decentralised wastewater treatment were discussed.

Groundwater pumping system in Lusaka’s wellfield Shaft 5. Copyright: GIZ

Water Financing Options

The last session of the event focused on Water Financing Options. Johann Lübbe, Disruption Specialist at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), shed light on “Blended finance principles and community water supply initiatives”. In order to address the issues the water sector is facing, there is a need for a programmatic approach to make the sector more investment-friendly and create partnerships between the public and private sector. To this end, the DWS developed the National Water Programme with priority focus on non-revenue water reduction, water reuse, municipal infrastructure funding and agricultural water use/irrigation. Groundwater is considered as another potential programme. The plan is to prepare projects, facilitate and mobilise funding for the scaled implementation of projects by creating a centralized “centre of excellence” to drive preparation, facilitate funding and monitor implementation, as well customising funding solutions to support the implementation of a specific asset class. The blended finance principles include credit enhancement, concessional and grant funding to crowd-in private sector funding, making use of debt capital market instruments with all funding procured on a competitive basis, programmatic approaches and finance options used to create specific and dedicated asset classes. Different programmes will have different funding options, structures and solutions. Such a standardised approach could also offer an opportunity to establish a groundwater programme as a sub-programme under the National Water Programme.

Closing Remarks

Finally, Dr. Faith Lawrence, Country Coordinator for South Africa at GIZ NatuReS, closed the event by thanking the presenters for their insightful contributions and highlighted the significance of groundwater and learning from different experiences of cities, including their challenges, lessons, and innovations. She summarised the event by presenting the ten major insights she took away from the event:

  • There is a need to build a case for conjunctive use of surface and ground water, as groundwater is an untapped resource and presents significant opportunities.
  • Increased urbanization means increased demand for groundwater options. However, this is not without challenge: pollution, poor operations and maintenance, increased as well as decreased ground water levels and poor water quality are all critical issues to be addressed.
  • Data and evidence in support of deciding for various groundwater options are key.
  • Understanding of the specific local context cannot be underestimated. This also means different approaches  need to address an array of complex challenges in different contexts.
  • The challenge of localization means groundwater recharge is the responsibility of the user, but the necessary capacity is not readily available at the local level.
  • There is a growing role for groundwater management and its strengthening in municipal governance  approaches.
  • There is a need to strongly promote collaboration, especially with regards to collective monitoring, as well as awareness raising.
  • Cities across the region have very different experiences concerning groundwater.
  • Public-private-partnerships play a critical role in sustainably managing groundwater in the long term.
  • Innovative financing and blended options are being sought and already available in the market in support of the water business.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) within South Africa’s uMhlathuze Water Stewardship Partnership

“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.

A short story on the introduction of LocalG.A.P. by Siyazisiza Trust to small-scale farmers in the uMhlathuze river catchment as an approach to promote better water management.
Copyright: Syazisiza Trust

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.

Press release: Water Stewardship Event highlights the journey to economic recovery and a green economy post-Covid

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.

water stewardship
Representation of topics from Day 1

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.”

water stewardship
Representation of topics discussed on Day 2

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.

Drone Technology to Improve Municipal Finance and Resource Planning in uMhlathuze, South Africa

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.​

children around a drone
Children of the community of Gobandluvo are educated about the purpose of a drone for improved water security.
Copyright: Dawid Dierks

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.

Aerial photos taken by drones can generate important information about illegal structures along rivers, invasive plant species etc.
Copyright: GIZ/Jesper Anhede

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
  • Population count
  • Construction management progress reports
  • Spillage identification
  • Quantity survey

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.


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NatuReS is commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and co-funded by the European Union and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). This website’s contents are the sole responsibility of GIZ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BMZ, European Union or FCDO.

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