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Factors Influencing Availability of Water in South Africa

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1532 words Published: 7th Jul 2017

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There are many factors influencing the sustainability of water supply in South Africa. One of the reasons is that “According to the global water balance (figure below), South Africa is situated in a negative runoff zone, which means that annual evaporation always exceeds rainfall” and “South Africa is further situated in a semidesert / desert latitude zone, which has almost no weathering and soil formation, due to the drop in precipitation and vegetation cover, and the higher temperatures and evaporation rate”. Besides the main factors, that will be dealt with in the essay, such as the over exploitation of water by the economic sectors and the main water sources in South Africa being polluted and therefore cannot be used, the situation of South Africa contributes largely to unsustainable “usage” of water through evaporation and therefore influencing the sustainability of water for future generations.

The table below supports The Miller Model (Figure 1) as it shows that in South Africa, the amount of evaporation exceeds the amount of rainfall and the water demand often exceeds the water yield which highlights the shortages of water in that alone without other major factors being looked at.

South Africa gets most of its water (66%) from surface runoff which is contained in about 320 dams all over the country which have total capacity of more than 32 400 million m3. Johannesburg being such a huge city is the biggest metropolitan area in South Africa. However unlike other cities of its size anywhere in the world it is one in very few that are not situated on or next to a major watercourse. Johannesburg’s main water source comes from the Jukskei and Upper Klip River in the north and south respectively. “The Jukskei catchment is situated within the Pretoria-Witwatersrand area. A range of users from recreational activities to industrial users are using the Jukskei River, with different water standards catering for each category” and although the catchment is used for a variety of human activities it still has to support a population number of 790 000 in 1991 which has probably increased over the years. “The Klip River catchment is one of the most heavily impacted river systems in South Africa and is subjected to almost every type of pollution. It furthermore serves all five recognised user groups identified by DWAF (domestic, agricultural, recreation, industrial and the natural environment).” It is approximated that “9500 million m3/annum of the total requirements for water of 12 871 million m3/annum is abstracted from surface water resources.  The remainder comes from groundwater, the re-use of return flows, and the interception of water by afforestation.” 

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In rural, semi arid and arid areas, surface water is not abundant therefore groundwater is used extensively instead the six major aquifers (rocks with porosity and water permeability) in South Africa include, Table Mountain Group sandstones, coastal sand deposits, basement granites, Karoo dolerites, Dolomites and alluvium along perennial rivers.  “Most exploitable groundwater occurs in the eastern and northeastern parts of the country and in the Western Cape, where aquifers are concentrated”.   When looking at Figure 3 which is the map of South Africa shows how utilizable groundwater is scarce in KwaZulu-Natal and the south of South Africa whereas water is concentrated in Northern and Western Cape. However with ground water “excessive concentration of chloride, nitrate, and other salts, all of which are costly to remove” which shows how less and less groundwater will be exploitable for human purposes as it is becoming increasingly polluted with toxic wates.

Looking at the above figure it shows how water in South Africa is concentrated in the Northern part of South Africa. In KwaZulu Natal province, there is 92% of available water that is guaranteed and only a one in thirteen risk of water restrictions which shows its availability. Although water may be currently available, leading scientists predict that “SA’s economic hub will run short of water should a severe drought occur in the next 10 years.”

Due to South Africa’s failure to maintain water pipes that provide households with water 30% was lost through leaking or burst pipes. “The right to sufficient water is guaranteed by the country’s constitution, and the government has worked hard to provide access to running water to 88 percent of the population, up from 62 percent in 1996”. However, water may be available but it is unevenly distributed and it is extrapolated that by 2025,that water deficits will occur in three of the four water management areas that support most of the country’s economic activity.

The Klip River which has been mentioned previously is located in an urban area where there is plenty urban development and Industries. Due to mining activities in the area, the river is subject to pressures from those mining activities as large amounts of water are required to support industries such as those that generate electrical power. Mining on its own has been averaged to use up to 8 % of South Africa’s water. Mines such as the Grootvlei mine are responsible for intoxicating valuable groundwater by pumping wastes into rivers thus making it useless in regards to human use.


Irrigation accounts for 50% of the total water use in South Africa. Farmers that grow crops or fruit, for commercial use or farmers that practise subsisitence farming, use lots of water to meet the demands of the fields of crops that need watering. The process of meat production uses up a lot of water which is said to be around 3000 litres of water for one Kg of meat which is why people are encouraged to reduce their intake of meat to save water.


Factories not only emitt gasses into the atmosphere but they also release effluents into nearby rivers that are both toxic to humans and animals. Some factories use water to cool down tanks and other machinery and the release it back into rivers which is a form of pollution because when water is heated, oxygen decreases which is detrimental to aquatic life.


Community Development and Environmental Education

By raising awareness amongst all people in rural areas, that are mostly uneducated, that water is a precious resource “which has an impact on all aspects of life” people will begin to take note of the significance of water to all that exist. These awareness projects can be made by having people talk to people about how to reduce water usage by not bathing three times a day or leaving a tap running for example.

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Water Conservation

50% of all water available in South Africa is used up by irrigation purposes. “The application of water conservation and demand management (WC/DM) principles in the irrigation and farming sector will have a significant effect on the availability of water to other sectors.” In order to successfully manage water resources then stricter boundries must be set on each sector using and only allowed a certain amount of water.

Industry, Mining and Power Generation Sector

The Industry, Mining and Power Generation Programme “oversees the development and implementation of appropriate policies, strategies, projects and initiatives that will promote water conservation in these economic sectors”. Such programmes should be improved as they aim to “establish a culture of water conservation” in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors and this will ensure sustainable use of water.

Another solution and initiative that have been taken to combat water shortages is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (II) which is due to begin in 2020 as “It is expected to take more than nine years to prepare for and implement the project.” Once the project is underway there will be an estimated transfer of 479-million cubic meters annually to South Africa which is aimed at getting water from Lesotho and supplying Gauteng province with it however “Negotiations were still under way with the government of Lesotho regarding the flagship of the project.” Desalinization of surrounding oceans such as the Indian and Atlantic Ocean has been considered but later ruled out due to financial, technological and facility constraints in the country to undergo this process.

It is true that water is still available in South Africa and it is also true that in a few years this resource will not be able to support and sustain the population. Industries and households have proved to be the guzzlers of water in South Africa. Strategies that have been implemented will be effective in reducing the usage of water by Industries, and programmes that aim to educate the youth and the elderly on water conservation will alert people to the fact that “We don’t have the luxury of choice and time.”


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