Exposing Africa's Manmade Water Crisis

Authored by Asit Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada via Project Syndicate,

The imminent shutdown of Cape Town’s piped water network should serve as a wake-up call for all of Africa to overhaul urban water-management systems. Unfortunately, like Africa’s water resources themselves, Cape Town's crisis seems likely to be wasted.

About a decade ago, at a meeting of South African mayors convened by Lindiwe Hendricks, South Africa’s then-minister of water and environmental affairs, we predicted that an unprecedented water crisis would hit one of the country’s main cities within 15 years, unless water-management practices were improved significantly.

That prediction has now come true, with Cape Town facing a shutdown of its piped water network. The question now is whether African leaders will allow our other projection – that, within the next 25-30 years, many more of the continent’s cities will be facing similar crises – to materialize.

Africa has long struggled with urban water and wastewater management. As the continent’s population has swelled, from about 285 million in 1960 to nearly 1.3 billion today, and urbanization has progressed, the challenge has become increasingly acute. And these trends are set to intensify: by 2050, the continent’s total population is expected to exceed 2.5 billion, with 55% living in urban environments.

The challenge African countries face may not be unique, but it is, in some ways, unprecedented. After all, in Western countries, urbanization took place over a much longer period, and against a background of steadily improving economic conditions. In building effective systems for water and wastewater management, cities had adequate investment funds and the relevant expertise.

In Africa, cities’ financial and management capacities are already overwhelmed. As a result, water and wastewater management has often fallen by the wayside, with policymakers focusing on water-related issues only when droughts and floods occur. The Third World Centre for Water Management estimates that only about 10-12% of Africa’s population has access to adequate domestic and industrial wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal.

Given that the construction of the infrastructure and systems required to meet African cities’ water needs is likely to take some 20-30 years, governments’ sustained commitment is essential. A key imperative is the development of more environmentally friendly systems for wastewater disposal, as is cleaning bodies of water within and around urban centers that are already heavily contaminated.

Such an effort must be based on a comprehensive approach to assessing water quality that covers a wide range of pollutants – far more than the 10-40 that most African utilities now monitor – with the expectation that new pollutants will be added as they emerge. Cities like Singapore now regularly monitor 336 water quality parameters to ensure water safety. To that end, Africa will need access to the relevant expertise, adequate funding, and well-run laboratories – all of which are currently in short supply.

Funding such efforts will not be easy. For one thing, official corruption has long undermined investment in the planning, design, and construction of water infrastructure, as well as the effective management of existing infrastructure. For another, the social value of water – including its central role in many African religions – has long limited governments’ ability to create a viable funding model for water utilities.

Though countries are often eager to trade resources like oil, gas, minerals, timber, and agricultural products, no country in the world sells its water to other countries. Canada approved the North American Free Trade Agreement only after its parliament confirmed that the agreement would not apply to water in its natural state. In federal countries like India and Pakistan, even individual provinces refuse to consider giving water to their neighbors.

Countries don’t make much money from water domestically, either. In 2001, South Africa introduced a “Free Basic Water Policy,” according to which all households, regardless of size or income, receive six kiloliters (1,585 gallons) of water per month at no cost. One might argue that this is because water is necessary for survival. But so is food. And while both water and food are guaranteed in South Africa’s constitution, only water is provided for free.

And South Africa is no anomaly. In most urban centers worldwide, water is free or highly subsidized, and politicians are reluctant to change that. Singapore’s water price did not rise at all from 2000 to 2016, and Hong Kong’s water prices haven’t changed since 1996, even as the price of everything else has risen.

While water obviously shouldn’t become an expensive luxury good, governments’ reluctance to charge appropriately for it has undermined their ability to invest in water utilities, including proper wastewater collection and treatment. Far from leveling the playing field, this has made urban water management in most cities less equitable, because the state is unable to provide the necessary services in an efficient, sustainable, or comprehensive way.

When Cape Town’s water network is shut down because reservoirs have become dangerously low – probably on July 9 – residents will have to stand in line at one of 200 water-collection points, in order to collect 25 liters per person per day. That task will be particularly hard on poor and otherwise vulnerable people.

As South Africa’s politicians and media debate the causes of this crisis, they often focus on climate change – a culprit that cannot talk back. But the fact is that the dismal state of urban water management – exemplified by the fact that 36% of the water in South African cities is either lost due to leakage or not paid for, compared to 3.7% in Tokyo and 8% in Phnom Penh – remains a leading reason for the shutdown.

Managing urban water is not rocket science. Solutions have been well known for decades, and the needed technology, expertise, and even funds are available. What has been missing is political will, sustained public demand, and continuous media scrutiny. Cape Town’s crisis should serve as a wake-up call for all of Africa. Unfortunately, like Africa’s water resources, it is most likely to be wasted.


SoDamnMad tmosley Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:59 Permalink

But they will have lots of water available soon. Zuma is out and the new president is going to seize the land from the white farmers, just like Zimbabwe did. With the agriculture industry collapsing and no need to water the crops, they can have an enormous amount of water available. They just won't have any food.

I hope Russia invites the white farmers to come. Then Russia will definitely be the number 1 producer of food.

In reply to by tmosley

83_vf_1100_c MEFOBILLS Wed, 02/21/2018 - 23:44 Permalink

  We live in the country and had a problem with field mice. Got 3 cats to fix the problem. Before long we had 13 cats and a mouse problem. Lazy fuckers would eat cheap catfood insread of hunting. Free food and fucking was all they cared about. Withdrew the food, the road and coyote packs took care of the cat problem. Sticky traps cured the mice.  Africa's problems will solve themselves in the long run.

In reply to by MEFOBILLS

MEFOBILLS 83_vf_1100_c Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:25 Permalink

Rat Terriers also go after mice.  

Some breeds of cat's are better mousers than others.


Africans will destroy their continent and then move outward....they already are, the trends will only accelerate.  Think carefully on the number 4 billion.  

Soy Boys, Cucks, and Liberal white females (Libtards) will project onto the invading negro hoards, and will welcome them in.

Then this crazed group (who should never have been given the vote) will vote for transfers to protect and coddle the negro invaders.

Who is actually being sucked dry to pay for the transfers?

Then your former high civilization will have to start dealing with things it never did before, like Cannibalism.  An already fragile high civilization handed down to you by your forefathers, will implode.  You then will be guilty by association of destroying history, patrimony, and the race you inherited, which took many thousands of years to construct. 

The future will curse the people who allow the coming negro invasion, in the same way the now is cursing those who are allowing the Muslim invasion.


In reply to by 83_vf_1100_c

TheAnswerIs42 skbull44 Wed, 02/21/2018 - 22:36 Permalink

First define your terms.

What does "Infinite growth" mean? What does "finite planet" mean?

Exactly what limits of what known resource are you talking about?

Are these limits subject to change as new resources are discovered?

Are they subject to change as more efficient use of these resources are discovered?

Will new technologies become available which will alleviate any of these shortages?

Do you have some kind of crystal ball available that the rest of use are not aware of?

Do you even know how to ask that question?




In reply to by skbull44

PT SquadronVBF94 Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:25 Permalink

They both believed in white superiority.
Hitler believed it was nature.
Churchill believed it was nurture.
But in my country the "Stolen generation" sued our government because our govt believed Churchill.

I have too many data points supporting all sides of the argument (not just Hitler vs Churchill) so I can not make a decision.  Plus I am an amateur.  Suffice to say there is no point in ignoring empirical evidence.

In reply to by SquadronVBF94

silverer Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:27 Permalink

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi of Libya was going to try to raise Africa out of poverty by backing the currency with gold. Thanks to Hillary, who was in the service of the Deep State, that effort was entirely averted. Now Libya, once the crown jewel of Africa with the best economy and standard of living, is in shambles and hosts slave trade. Suddenly, the US is nowhere to be found. Thanks, Hillary. Just remember how the mainstream supported her, and everything she stood for. CNN, MSNBC, etc.. all OK with murder and keeping Africa in the shithole.

Cabreado Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:38 Permalink

Before the commentary devolves into a race-oriented shitshow, try to remember that the fundamental dynamic here is about power & control.  And that is not an "Africa" thing.  Have you noticed?