Water management has become a global developmental challenge. Growing populations and economies cannot thrive without this valuable resource which affects agriculture, education, energy, health, and our general livelihoods. It also has a major impact on most of our challenges today such as food security, urbanization, energy security, environmental protection and climate change adaptation.
According to the World Bank, groundwater is depleting quickly and is not being replenished fast enough. With climate change, experts say that the pressures on our water resources will worsen.
Pipe leaks, caused mostly by ageing infrastructure, as well as complacency, are major problems which stand in the way of water conservation. If consumers are made to understand the long-term implications of a dwindling water supply, they will probably use water more sparingly and report leaks. David Schaub-Jones, co-founder of SeeSaw, says that the public should take more responsibility and get involved with water management by reporting leaks and unusually high water bills. In an exclusive interview with Engerati at the AUW 2013, he says this is especially relevant for South Africa as it is one of the driest countries in the world. The country’s municipalities lose on average 30% of their treated water supply due to leakages. Some areas lose up to 80%, according to Aqua Loc’s CEO Lloyd Long, who says that the country’s Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, is placing more pressure on municipalities to solve the high water losses.
The losses have major financial implications for the municipalities that have paid for the purification processes and infrastructure. It also means less water in the system for the informal settlements and poorer areas that don’t pay for water. The water loss also places more strain on the environment as more is pumped to replace the water loss.
SeeSaw focuses on tailoring information and communications technology (ICT) to the particular needs of the water and sanitation sector. Their tools help manage water provision, thereby strengthening the relationship of service providers with their customers and improving the sustainability of water and sanitation activities. Their software and advice intends to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of water and sanitation delivery. Schaub-Jones points out that in Africa more people have mobile phones than toilets so it would make sense to utilize this as a form of water management. The idea is similar to overseas campaigns such as “See Click Fix” in the US and “Fix My Street” in the UK. However, he says it may take time for the initiative to take off as African municipalities don’t always respond to complaints and queries as quickly as they should. SeeSaw is apparently working alongside municipality staff to improve response times. Municipality staff is being offered incentives for quick response times, for instance. Digital data also makes it easier for utility managers, explains Mr Schaub-Jones. Reports that were once written on paper and had the potential of getting lost are now recorded digitally which makes access easier. Managers and their staff can now also be held more accountable.
Lloyd Long-CEO of Aqua-Loc, feels that technology must be developed to actually manage the water, not just measure it. In an interview with Engerati at the AUW 2013, he points out that there is a culture of non-payment in South Africa. He explains that many believe they shouldn’t have to pay for such a basic need and that government should provide water free of charge. But, purification and infrastructure maintenance costs money. However, Mr Long explains that once people pay for their water, they will use it more sparingly. Since many do not pay for their water currently (the extremely poor), it would be illogical to force them to pay the going rate. Mr Long suggests a negotiated and reasonable rate-one that is affordable for this sector of the population. Once people are paying, Aqua-Loc suggests a water demand management system, consisting of a flow-regulating device, which will give the consumer an allocated amount of water. This will help the consumer to avoid unnecessary wastage and high consumption costs.
According to Mr Long, it will take five to 10 years to introduce demand management to the country and to change mindsets.
Technology and mindsets will need to be changed in order to secure this valuable resource.