HomeEnvironmentOp-ed: Water sustainability is a new battleground

Op-ed: Water sustainability is a new battleground

Protecting our limited water resources is going to require not only better recycling and reuse, but more effective wastewater management strategies.

Water, as we know, is a limited resource that is essential for all life on this planet. This makes it all the more astounding that so many of us simply take it for granted, especially in a semi-arid country like South Africa.

This should clearly demonstrate that it is vital that the nation as a whole changes the value it places on this life-giving resource.

Tanya dos Santos, Global head of Sustainability at Investec
Kate Stubbs, Marketing Director at Interwaste

We are all well-aware of the enormous crisis Cape Town faced in 2018, when water scarcity reached a point where the provincial government spoke of a ‘Day Zero’, when it was anticipated that the entire city would run out of water, notes Kate Stubbs, Marketing Director at Interwaste.

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“Fortunately, this was averted, and the good news is that we have had heavy and widespread rains this year, leading to dams that are either full or at least in a much better position.

“Of course, as with any limited resource, this is only temporary, which is why it is more vital than ever that we grasp not only the true value of water, but that we make a concerted effort to act sustainably in every way around this issue.”

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Stubbs adds that it is crucial that we strive to improve water quality by minimising pollution and the release of chemicals and waste into water, as well as increasing recycling and reusing water across the globe.

“This is critical, when one notes that the World Bank estimates that $114 million is needed annually to reach the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water alone.

Valuable resource

“We speak of valuing water more highly because the current lack of recognition of this value can be seen in the fact that not only is water not being recycled and reused to the best of its ability, but the knock-on effects of water sustainability failure are massive. Already, over 300 million people in Africa alone have no access to clean drinking water.”

In fact, Tanya dos Santos, Global head of Sustainability at Investec, believes sustainability is, in essence, about addressing all aspects of inequality and at the same time ensuring planetary health – of which water is a critical component.

“Water is the lifeblood of civilisation and without water to support vital biological and social function, communities cannot flourish.”

It is for this reason that Investec actively supports the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), of which number 6 calls for clean water and sanitation for all people.

“At Investec, we look for opportunities in sustainability and work with various stakeholders, including government and our clients, to help unlock capital flows that will explicitly support the sustainable development,” she explains.

“While we support all the Goals, as a financial institution, we focus on six goals where we believe we will have the greatest and most measurable impact.”

“The UN goals shift the focus from donor-based philanthropy initiatives and allow us to seek partnerships that create solutions that can be both profitable and sustainable, and that is exactly what we look for,” dos Santos says.

One such example is Abeco Tanks, in which Investec Private Capital has an equity stake and is a funding partner. The company, which has almost 40 years’ expertise in building steel water storage tanks, does not just build and design tanks but works also in collaboration with municipal, community and business stakeholders to put continuity measures in place to reduce the negative impact of water scarcity.

Interwaste’s Kate Stubbs adds, that if we want to reach a point where SA’s water needs are met, a much more diverse water mix is required, including groundwater and water reuse.

We must also fix the infrastructure and skill deficiencies and start embracing technologies; we have to plan for the impact of climate change; and we have to ensure effective wastewater management and treatment.

“Wastewater has become a critical consideration, and the treatment thereof even more so. Wastewater treated to the required standards – as set out by national environmental agencies – means that this water can be reused effectively.

“In fact, we have found that nearly all effluent can be recycled, if done properly, which means that a large bank of water could become available, which previously may not have been considered as ‘safe’ for the environment or community.”

“Innovative wastewater management can result in the redistribution of this water into the environment for irrigation and dust suppression, as well as to replenish rivers and catchments in our water infrastructure networks.

The different technologies are so advanced today, that effluent can even be treated further to provide potable (drinking) water for areas where it is in short supply.”

Proactive approach

Wastewater treatment can play a pivotal role in reducing water scarcity, Stubbs continues, and it is up to the corporate community to find ways of offering solutions in the most effective manner, as well as at the best possible cost and at the highest efficiency rates as possible.

“Therefore, wastewater infrastructure needs to allow for zero sludge removal with low electricity demand and maintenance costs. It means that solutions need to be developed that are adaptable for the big corporate, as well as the man on the street – where wastewater treatment becomes the norm and not a far-off vision.”

Interwaste believes that waste management companies need to take a proactive approach to innovating new ways to conserve, manage and repurpose water, as well as play their part in fighting climate change.

And dos Santos concurs: “The private sector, and in particular, the financial sector, have a pivotal role to play in driving the conservation and the sustainability agenda.

“Our strategy is to harness the expertise in our various businesses and identify opportunities to maximise impact. We partner with our clients, investors and various stakeholders to support delivery of the SDGs and build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable world.”

“The lack of adequate clean water to meet human drinking water and sanitation needs is indeed a constraint on human health and productivity, and subsequently on economic development, as well as on the maintenance of a clean environment and healthy ecosystems.

“While there remain multiple challenges in achieving this, there has never been a better and more pressing time for companies within the public and private sector to play their part in the sustainable management of our most precious resource,” concludes Stubbs.