South Africa

Background About Our Work in South Africa

About South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is both the 25th largest in area and the 25th most populous country, with approximately 53 million inhabitants.

Based on rising population, economic growth projections and current efficiency levels, demand for water in South Africa is expected to rise by 17.7 billion m3 in 2030, while water supply is projected to amount to 15 billion m3, representing 17 percent gap between water supply and demand (or a 2.7–3.8 billion m3 water deficit). This gap is critical, and if sustainable socio economic growth is to be envisioned, such a gap has to be dealt with decisively over this period.

South Africa will have to resolve tough trade-offs between agriculture, key industrial activities such as mining and power generation, and large and growing urban centers. These trade-offs can cause tension and conflict among water users. No actor alone has the ability to solve these challenges, but much can be achieved if water users work together to identify shared solutions and implement strategies, policies, plans, and programs.

Water Challenges

In South Africa, water demand is expected to rise over the next 20 years while its supply is likely to decline. Persistently poor usage habits, physical and commercial water losses and ecological degradation, such as the loss of wetlands, have been among the chief causes for the impending crisis. The main consumers of water have traditionally been the agriculture, manufacturing, energy, mining and residential sectors. Collectively, these groups contribute the greatest portion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making their use of water a critical part of South Africa’s economic ecosystem.
Population growth in South Africa is playing a significant role in increasing water demand while economic growth has led to increased water requirements for agricultural and industrial uses. The two factors, considered together, have led to a growing middle class which has a larger water consumption rate overall.

Current and Future Water Demand

Water demand, driven by rising population levels, economic growth projections, and current efficiency levels, is expected to rise by 52 percent over the next 15 years (17.7 billion cubic meters in 2030). By 2030, water supply is projected to amount to 15 billion m3, representing a 2.7 billion m3 deficit – roughly one-sixth of the country’s current use.

Water scarcity means increasingly higher water costs, and allocative forces then direct water to prioritize urban and industrial, where the country’s increase in total water demand is largely attributable to. South Africa will have to resolve tough trade-offs between agriculture, key industrial activities such as mining and power generation, and large and growing urban centers. A number of technical solutions to this challenge exist: for example, fixing leaks could alone save an estimated 32 percent of municipal water supplies. However, the second draft National Water Resource Strategy of the Department of Water Affairs recognizes that success will depend on how effectively government can work with different stakeholders in the water sector.