South Africa

Background of 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 a 17% 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

  • 17% gap between water demand and practically available water supply by 2030
  • Agricultural water demand, which accounts for 61% of overall water use, is driven by irrigation, which has water losses of about 30%.
  • The mining sector contributes 18% to South Africa’s GDP; however, it also contributes to water pollution and generates excess mine water and acid mine drainage with high levels of contaminants.
  • An estimated 37% of the water in South Africa’s municipal systems is non-revenue water, a value of around 7 billion South African rand (US$ 500 million) annually.

Water scarcity means increasingly higher water costs, and allocative forces then direct water to prioritize urban and industrial usage, to which the country’s increase in total water demand is largely attributable. 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% of municipal water supplies. However, the second draft of the 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.