“Water is life.” A popular phrase – that returns 5.93 billion results within 0.62 seconds in a Google search! These results are composed of the usage of this phrase in various forms from being a name of organisations (e.g. WATERisLife) to being a motto for departments within organisations. For example, South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation uses this phrase as their slogan, while the United Nations dedicated a decade, 2005-2015 to ‘Water for Life.’ One may wonder; what does this phrase really mean? Why is it so important? To unpack this phrase, I’d like you to take a moment and imagine one full day without any form of water available to you.
Imagine a day where you cannot prepare a single meal due to water unavailability. Imagine a day where hospitals have no water to maintain hygiene, where farmers cannot irrigate their vegetables, where there is no water for coal extraction… life would stop! Human beings depend on natural resources for survival and water, at the heart of it all, is arguably the most important of these. Many other natural processes also depend on water; from water for fish survival to water for irrigation, it’s difficult to imagine how human beings would have any form of food without water. From water for domestic washing to the treatment of waste, our hygiene and health would be highly compromised without water. These are just a few examples of how water is essential to our daily life – one could list many more!
As important as it is, water is a finite resource. In other words, only a limited volume is available! On the other hand, human demand for water continues to grow and this means that, at some point we run a risk of not having enough water to meet everyone’s demand (in the medium- to long-term). We run a risk of realising a day without water! In fact, many parts of the world have been experiencing several ‘days without water’ which has had devastating effects. The United Nations reports that four out of ten people do not have access to drinking water, while the World Health Organisation reports that about 3 900 children die daily due to the effects of poor water availability or quality, or as a result of sanitation-related diseases. Recently, in a more local example, a national state of disaster was declared in South Africa’s three Cape Provinces, as they were experiencing the worst drought in 100 years and this trend of low rainfall and dam levels has been experienced in several parts of the country in recent years (e.g. Tzaneen, Qheberha, Cape Town, etc.).
These facts emphasize the importance of using water cautiously and placing our best efforts on saving this precious resource. Although the Umgeni Water Supply Area is on the generally wetter side of the country, it remains susceptible to severe water shortages as experienced during 2014-15 (Figure 1). In fact, over the last five years, the average dam level in the Mgeni System (mainly supplying Pietermaritzburg and Durban) has not reached full capacity (100%) at the beginning of the winter season (see Figure 2).
With climate change projections predicting an increased drought frequency in southern Africa, our best solution is to conserve the limited resource that we have. In addition, a large proportion of our bulk water supply is lost. Therefore, we can and should all play an active role in saving and protecting our water resources. For example, at a household level, we can play an active role by reducing the amount of water used for non-essential purposes (e.g. filling our swimming pools and washing our driveways), by using recycled water for non-potable uses and by reporting leaks in our supply infrastructure. These are just few examples of how we can all play an active role in managing our resource sustainably, to avoid the realisation of a day without water!