A Community of Consumers: The Regional Scenario in Southern Africa

16 February 2000
Public event

Chair: 

Judith Rees, Professor of Geography and Pro-Director of LSE

Speakers:

Barbara Schreiner, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Republic of South Africa

Description

This event focused on the socio-economic issues, water services provisions, the general climate and geography of southern Africa.

1. Barbara Schreiner divided her talk into an overview of the southern African context focusing on socio-economic issues, water services provisions, the general climate and geography and an analysis of the implications for water resources development of questions of social stability, managing international resources, governance models and issues surrounding privatisation. She prefaced her talk by saying that water management was one contributor to the creation of a 'just and sustainable society in which poverty no longer existed'.

2. Southern Africa faced a remarkable number of challenges (she limited her presentation to 11 of the 12 SADC countries) which displayed the common features of: 1) high levels of poverty (particularly in rural areas); 2) high level of underdevelopment 3) and lack of basic services, such as sanitation and potable water. In South Africa a 1994 survey found that nearly 40% of the population were classified as poor in terms of not being able to meet their daily nutritional requirements. Women and women-headed households were amongst the poorest, partly the result of Apartheid policies having left a predominance of women-headed households in rural areas.

3. Access to potable water was frequently identified as a priority need of the poor. Again, looking at South Africa, only 45% of households (by the 1996 census) had an inside tap; against 17% in the yard; 12% accessing water from a public tap and 14% from dams, rivers and other external sources. Some 12% of households had no sanitation. Figures in other countries in the region were equally bad, if not worse. In general by the year 2000 the World Bank had predicted that poverty would be affecting 600m people in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, 5-8m in South Africa do not have access to safe drinking water and around 20m to adequate sanitation; and 10-17% in Southern Africa did not have access to safe water, according to the UNDP.

4. Outlining the social context, she stated that in terms of population dynamics, urbanisation posed particular problems, placing special stress on urban water systems. In fact, percentages of populations with water services coverage in urban areas in some countries had actually fallen. At the same time regional population growth added to pressures, although the extent of the HIV/AIDS impact had yet to be ascertained: potentially the impact of the disease could be to reduce the population of South Africa in 2020 from a projected 70m to between 48-52m. Populations were mainly young, and in many cases civil conflict was extremely costly (Angola and Mozambique's past and present conflicts were cited) on poverty, underdevelopment and environmental degradation.

5. Turning to water scarcity, she stated that relative levels of water scarcity varied considerably in the region: some countries used only 10-15% of available water resources, others over half (South Africa, for instance). Variation was a function of varying rainfall and runoff in the region; some countries - e.g. Botswana and Namibia - for instance, had extremely high potential evapo-transpiration rates; most of the region is flood and drought prone. Variations were also high within countries. Nevertheless, definitions of stress and scarcity were contested. If one looked simply at population per available water, even by 1995 you could say that South Africa and Lesotho had become water-stressed. It was predicted that by 2020 states such as Lesotho, Swaziland and Tanzania would be suffering water stress; and Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe would be suffering water scarcity. Nevertheless, these findings based on per capita figures hid the importance that high social and technical adaptability had in managing on the same or lower levels of water availability per capita.

6. Turning to the present challenge of managing water scarcity she stated that it was important to look at overall economic development and the issue of joint management of shared resources. Shared river basins, for instance, could be the kernel for economic development. Looking beyond national boundaries and to the whole regional development was an imperative, and not least because economic development as a whole was the most important way of avoiding conflict between and within countries. In total there were 15 international drainage basins in the southern African region, some of which encompassed four states. Schreiner noted that there were some tensions in basins including the Okavango river delta. Currently applicable international agreements were the UN Convention on non-navigational water courses, the SADC protocol on shared water courses (which might be amended later this year) and the ILA Helsinki rules. Despite the SADC protocol having been ratified only by the RSA, Botswana, Lesotho and Mauritius, it is a useful tool that will prove its use in the field. The protocol states that, in general, 'utilisation of shared water courses within the SADC region must be open to each riparian basin state in respect of the water course systems within its territory and without prejudice to its sovereign rights'.

7. Water quality is of complementary importance, with mining, industrial, agricultural and domestic waste polluting water courses in South Africa. In many cases women and women-headed households were bearing the brunt of the problem of water quality both in terms of water-borne diseases and impacts on nutrition. Poverty remained the crucial challenge in southern Africa with households suffering most from a failure to secure sustainable supplies, and water-borne diseases then compounding the problem of poverty. These issues also affected significantly the question of technical design specifications.

8. Turning to the question of payment for water, Barbara Schreiner said the prevailing discourse was that people should pay. Nevertheless, an Mvula Trust study had raised important questions about trade-offs with other issues, including women's empowerment and whose finances should pay for water at the intra-community and intra-household level. The main question was how to use water pricing to assist in achieving water-use efficiency. At present two-thirds of water use in southern Africa was for agriculture, she said, though this might decrease to some 50% by 2020. However, some is used wastefully and on low-value crops with the government providing high levels of subsidy. How to make the change in water use without out increasing instability and poverty levels in the rural areas was a major challenge.

9. Using water more efficiently in the regional context introduced the significance of governance models to her presentation, many of which were based on the 'rightsizing' of government (generally meaning downsizing), and linked to policies such as outsourcing, decentralisation and privatisation. The key, in terms of resource management, was to move decision making to the lowest appropriate level, but to avoid resource capture by elites. However, she cautioned that there were important social aspects too, such as literacy levels - with particular problems of involving the poor in decentralised decision making where there were high levels of illiteracy. Privatisation, as another policy, moreover, does not necessarily deliver services to the poor - in many cases only if the contract drawn up specifically obligates a provider to do so. Hence, the success of this policy for the poor relates to the capacity of government to draw up and/or manage the contracts themselves.

10. Concluding emphatically that we had to 'get water resources right' in order to achieve economic development and poverty reduction, she presented a diagram of the challenges facing southern African water resources development, centred within which were the issues of finite water resources and underdevelopment, and around which was a circle of improved water resources management and poverty eradication and economic development. But a key challenge was whether it as possible to rise above the 'national vision' and achieve a regional vision? Furthermore, what was going to happen with population growth and the HIV/AIDS scenario? Other questions posed related to the future role of the private sector in providing water services and the complicating factor of global climate change to planners and managers?

11. The discussion covered a number of technical and social issues arising from the talk. Asked what the mapping of groundwater in South Africa and what potential there was for its development, she said there had been 'quite extensive' mapping but that there was limited potential for this resource and in some areas a problem of naturally occurring fluoride had been found. Rather, she said, the possibilities of surface water harvesting had not been properly explored.

12. Measures of water stress were queried and she was asked about the unit flow measurement cited. It was, she said, million cu m per annum, but she remained concerned that all such figures (below 1700 mcm per capita is water stress, below 1000 mcm per capita is water scarcity) were too mechanistic and did not, for instance, take into account water quality and the capacity of society to cope with less and less water. Social functions were not built into scarcity modelling even though perhaps more important was the relative capacity of different states and societies to adapt effectively to scarcity.

13. On water resources reform in South Africa she said that the first phase of the South African National Water Act had come into force in October 1998 and phase two, (on licensing provisions) had gone through a year later. A pricing strategy on the basis of the Act had been published which looks at: 1) a catchment management charge; 2) a resource development charge; 3) an economic charge. The third has yet to be operationalised. The pricing strategy's implementation had been complicated by a separate agreement with the South African Agriculture Union (mainly established white farmers) who had been heavily subsidised in past. The agreement gave them five years during which time they would have to end up paying full operation and maintenance costs. A new agreement was due next year, but the result so far had been that some farmers were lobbying government claiming that they could not afford to farm any longer. She asked, however, whether they should be allowed to farm, in any case, low value crops in water short areas? The Act also required government to maintain a reserve of water to: 1) provide basic needs; and 2) to maintain ecosystem functioning, before any water was allocated. Now all water in the hydrological cycle was a national asset managed under the custodianship of public trust by the national government and any water use is by time-limited authorisation only. Riparian rights accruing to individuals no longer existed.

14. On water resources reform in South Africa she said that the first phase of the South African National Water Act had come into force in October 1998 and phase two, (on licensing provisions) had gone through a year later. A pricing strategy on the basis of the Act had been published which looks at: 1) a catchment management charge; 2) a resource development charge; 3) an economic charge. The third has yet to be operationalised. The pricing strategy's implementation had been complicated by a separate agreement with the South African Agriculture Union (mainly established white farmers) who had been heavily subsidised in past. The agreement gave them five years during which time they would have to end up paying full operation and maintenance costs. A new agreement was due next year, but the result so far had been that some farmers were lobbying government claiming that they could not afford to farm any longer. She asked, however, whether they should be allowed to farm, in any case, low value crops in water short areas? The Act also required government to maintain a reserve of water to: 1) provide basic needs; and 2) to maintain ecosystem functioning, before any water was allocated. Now all water in the hydrological cycle was a national asset managed under the custodianship of public trust by the national government and any water use is by time-limited authorisation only. Riparian rights accruing to individuals no longer existed.

15. At a regional level had the SADC water resource strategy document been drawn up and if so was it was an important document? Water resources under SADC is a fairly recent and not very powerful sector and had yet to establish an influence. Water was not important enough within SADC, she said. On the question of decentralised service provision and lobbying by townships populations for services lobbying was carried out by politicians (more so in urban than rural areas), to ensure service delivery in their area, but not very much by communities.

16. The question of the importance of demand management was raised. Any further water for irrigation was to be made available to emerging farmers, she said, and that the Act would only allowed farmers to take as lawful what they are using. But what was the prospect of water reform getting water in South Africa to smaller farmers, for more labour intensive, poorer users? There was a policy, she said, to make available irrigation to 'emerging farmers' (meaning black farmers), including new forms of interrelationships between large-scale and small-scale farmers around the use of irrigation water. A process is in train with Department of Agriculture and the Development Bank of Southern Africa to take the process of assisting emerging farmers forward.

17. Whether water was an economic constraint depended on how successful we were in managing it, she said. There was no automatic assumption that economic growth, per se, is going to benefit the poor. In this respect privatisation was a useful too, but only when the governance capacity existed to manage the contract process. One concern in this respect was that contracts being signed between municipalities and private contractors in South Africa required scrutiny and regulation. The government had put together a regulatory framework within which the privatisation option was outlined and including model contracts and regulatory frameworks. Managing the consultants involved as well as the contracts was an important process, given that in some cases municipal governments were 'outclassed' in decision making and contractual arrangements.

18. But how easy was it to translate some of the ideas presented in relation to South Africa to decision making in other neighbouring country contexts? Barbara Schreiner avoided commenting directly on the ability to transfer the ideas and the understanding of the paradigms presented amongst by decision-makers in neighbouring countries.