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Water sector’s answer to drought and finance

The Swaziland Water Services Corporation (SWSC) is one of the leading African parastatals in water conservation strategies. ESI Africa caught up with Sicelo N. Mashwama, the environment, health & safety manager at SWSC and Advisory Board member of the African Utility Week conference.

This article first appeared in ESI-Africa Edition 1, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

The SWSC has managed to reduce its non-revenue water from around 50% in 2010 to a current 22%. In line with a strategic plan, the corporation aims to reduce non-revenue water to below 20% by the end of our strategic period. This endeavour is enhanced by the implementation of Quality and Environmental Managements systems, which the corporation is currently certified for.

Sicelo, tell us more about your current projects.

We have managed to improve efficiency in our operations to reduce overall the resource footprint demanded by our activities. With funding and finance from the World Bank and the African Development Bank we are currently embarking on two major water and sanitation projects that will overall increase access to water and sanitation services by more than 25%. Many African institutions have benchmarked with our operations including water utilities from Lesotho, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The impact of climate change, including recurring droughts coupled with a sluggish economic environment are the major threats to our business. We have implemented a number of initiatives aimed at minimising impacts from these risks. These include partnering with and lobbying government for construction of more dams, partnering with other institutions to plan risk and disaster reduction interventions, including enhancing institutional capacities between these institutions. We have also diversified our business to mitigate economic impacts and these include operating a water bottling plant to diversify our revenue.

In your opinion, has Africa started to face the effects of climate change?

Africa is slowly adapting to climate change impacts, even though the adaptation and mitigation rates are not in sync with the imminent impacts. This calls for urgent action considering the repeated climate impact cycles, which are getting more and more intense each time. There is also opportunity for Africa to learn from its current situation. Countries such as Swaziland and South Africa have recently experienced extreme drought in the past three years and this presents an ideal platform for countries still not affected to take lessons from these scenarios and better prepare themselves.

What are your thoughts on pricing water as a commodity?

Water continues to be on the borderline between being a social good versus an economical good. Scarcity of water resources and increasingly expensive technology make the provision of potable water extremely expensive, which in turn calls for frequent increases in tariffs. On the other hand, water tariff increases are politically driven, which means that emphasis is placed on providing potable water to all at an affordable cost, which is far below a cost-reflective tariff. With increasing demand for water in a situation where water resources are diminishing, this calls for increased awareness on water conservation strategies coupled with socio-economic strategies that should balance the social and economic demand for water commodities.

What surprises you about the water sector?

More often, we view water as a basic need, which is true. However, the value we attach to water is not indicative of its significance as a basic need. Someone is more willing to pay for one litre of fuel at R15.00 than 1,000 litres of water at the same price. As such, people will only put a value to water when it becomes a stressed resource. With events like the African Utility Week, there is renewed hope that industries and water users will share more insight and ideas with the motive of changing the imbalanced attitude towards water resources. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI-Africa Edition 1, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

Meet with innovative water experts at the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition on 14-16 May in Cape Town where the Water conference session will address water metering and monitoring, water treatment advances, and available water technology platforms.

www.african-utility-week.com | @AfricaUtilities | gary.meyer@spintelligent.com