Water Affairs seeks big money from overseas to fix failing infrastructure

15 March 2012

The South African Department of Water Affairs is seeking overseas investments of an estimated R75Billion in an attempt to get our wastewater treatment infrastructure back on track.  No indication of the level of sophistication is mentioned but it is assumed that this would only be for “basic” treatment levels, i.e. nothing special to offset the images of wastewater effluents on eutrophication.

The option of foreign companies or investors operating certain wastewater treatment plants is also mooted, something that has not really worked well  in practice, with consumers simply having to pay much more for basic treatment.  We urgently need to see a statement from the Minister to the effect that a concerted effort will be made to raise the level of treatment to the point where water resources are protected and not simply used as a sink for partially-treated effluents.

[Minister] Molewa said South Africa was considering handing over the building and running of some of its wastewater treatment plants to private companies. Her department was examining “the possibility of some of the treatment plants being developed — and owned and managed — by those private sector people, probably even on a public-private partnership”.

Molewa said 43 wastewater treatment plants were under development in South Africa and “if we co-funded, we could take the money saved and spend it elsewhere” [hopefully on important water resource protection interventions – like better quality treatment processes?]. Source: Engineering News.

What I have to wonder about is why, when the whole world is gearing up to try and protect their surface waters from similar problems, i.e. too much unwanted nutrients getting into lakes and rivers, would foreign investors want to deploy their resources in South Africa when, ostensibly, the same investment in their own countries would be a lesser risk?

The Department of Water Affairs needs to move, demonstrably, towards educating the entire South African public about the dangers of continuing to dump wastewater effluents into the environment (rivers and dams), only to have these aquatic environments degrade and the costs of taking the pollution out again, so that the water can be made potable, increase.  The sensible option to offset both problems is to treat the effluent properly in the first place.

And yes, as with energy costs, petrol costs, medical costs and everything else, it will cost money – how much it costs is a simple function of how long the problem is left unattended.  All so simple, yet SO difficult to get something done about it.


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