Through collaboration and fine-tuning existing structures in the water sector, South African can make a recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic which is inclusive and green.
That was the overarching message to emerge from the 6th Annual Water Stewardship Event convened online on Tuesday, which included more than 200 representatives from the water sector. This included officials from government, industry, finance, civil society and development organisations.
The virtual event was jointly hosted by the National Business Initiative (NBI), the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), the Royal Danish Embassy and supported by GIZ’s Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS).
In his opening address, Trevor Balzer, Acting Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation, said by embracing the power of partnerships between the private, public and civil society sector South Africa could close the water gap by using a water stewardship approach.
Balzer urged local and international investors to “come and invest in our water infrastructure which remains one of the most meaningful ways to create jobs, enable economic growth, reduce inequalities and support small, medium, and micro-enterprises.”
The Danish Ambassador to South Africa, Tobias Elling Rehfeld, said his country had been involved in our water sector since 1994, and he believed water security could be achieved through investments towards a green recovery from the pandemic.
“Water is the frontline of our defence against Covid-19,” he said, adding that the pandemic offered opportunities to the private sector to participate in a green recovery.
In a panel discussion on governance, where it was emphasised that governance is the entire water sector, not just government, Mike Muller, visiting adjunct Professor at Wits School of Governance, asked why South Africa had not made progress in addressing water security, and what would be done by delegates when the meeting came to an end.
“We need to pay attention to how we govern and manage our water. It is not about climate change, it is not about corruption, it is about weak leadership in government that allows corruption,” he said.
Barbara Schreiner of the Water Integrity Network referred to the Money Down the Drain report done with Corruption Watch, which highlighted “enormous corruption”.
She said that public participation in procurement processes, similar to that in Ukraine, could act as watchdogs.
A lack of accountability linked to the governance, management, and oversight of the sector itself, added to the challenges posed by Covid-19, delegates were told.
Martin Ginster, Co-Chair of the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), said strong systems and institutions were vital in driving effective water management and bringing water and sanitation to more citizens.
“As we look towards the future, good water governance will be needed to ensure an adequate supply of water at an acceptable quality to prevent and fight future pandemics,” he said.
Ambassador Rehfeld urged the water sector to ramp up investments to achieve the country’s water and sanitation goals, which would in turn contribute to economic recovery.
“South Africa needs all hands-on deck, and Denmark is ready to step up our support in terms of partnership programmes, water sector technology and finance,” he said.
Alex McNamara, Water and Climate Manager with the National Business Initiative (NBI), said investments should build water resilience and reduce future risks.
“Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of access to safe and reliable water, and we have a responsibility to learn from our experience over the last year to build back greener, stronger, and better,” he said.