With the Eastern Cape metro of Nelson Mandela Bay set to see combined water levels in its dams hit the single digits soon and warnings of widespread water cuts hitting citizens and key industries, organised business in the metro has called for national government emergency funding to address the water crisis.
Andrew Muir, president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, issued an ominous statement on Wednesday, saying that water supply to at least a third of the metro is projected to be impacted.
The drought-stricken metro, which is home to major industries such as the local manufacturing plants of auto giant VW and JSE-listed Aspen Pharmacare, is facing its worst water woes in decades.
Its biggest dam, Kouga, only has around 1.5% of usable water according to local newspaper, The Herald.
“We appeal to national government to urgently make funding available to support mitigation initiatives to deal with the drought,” says Muir.
“In tandem with this, the Eastern Cape province needs to declare the metro as a disaster area in order to secure additional funding to support the implementation of these initiatives,” he adds.
Muir warns that key industrial and commercial businesses are located in the areas which are projected to potentially be without water from July.
“This is of great concern to us, particularly in terms of the impact it will have on our local economy. The automotive and related industries, which account for almost 40% of our metro’s GDP, are located within these impacted areas. So too is Aspen’s sterile facility which will be producing vaccines for half of South Africa’s population,” he says.
He notes that while many local businesses are urgently investing in measures to develop alternative water supply and to reduce water consumption levels, not all have the resources to do so. He expressed concern that the water issues in the city are contributing to an increase in the cost of doing business.
Desalination plant approved
Muir welcomed last week’s decision by the Nelson Mandela Bay metro council to approve the construction of a new desalination plant, which will be located at the Coega Industrial Development Zone.
However, he says that it is critically important that the plant’s completion date of May 2022 is achieved.
He bemoaned the inadequate forward planning and the lack of maintenance of infrastructure in the metro, which has impacted upon the reliability of both electricity and water supply.
“The metro’s water and electricity infrastructure is in a poor state due to the lack investment, as well poor maintenance over many years. This unacceptable state of affairs can no longer continue and clear plans need to be developed and implemented to turn this situation around,” says Muir.
“Water leaks account for a loss of around 35% of our water … At least 10% of this is happening at schools, which is why the chamber and its members have become involved in initiatives to curb water losses at schools,” he points out.
Besides addressing water leaks, Muir says drilling boreholes need to be prioritised as one of the urgent measures to address the water situation in the metro.
“It is vitally important that as many boreholes as possible are constructed and become operational within the next few weeks.”