Saving water loss by fixing wasteful leaks

23 September 2015

By Phumla Williams

A dripping tap or leaking toilet can on average waste up to 30 litres of water an hour. This, multiplied over thousands of leaking pipes and taps across South Africa, cascades into an avalanche of lost water.

To conserve this life-giving resource, President Jacob Zuma recently launched the War on Leaks project to address water loss from leaks. It calls on South Africans to fix leaking taps, toilets and pipes in their homes and communities.

While South Africa has sufficient water resources to meet its current needs, our future requirements can only be secured through effective and timeous smart water-management options.

South Africa is a water-scarce country and unless we take drastic measures to preserve and save water today, there will be a serious water challenge that is worsened by the effects of global warming and climate change.

Climate change is felt through the yearly rise in average temperatures and intense summer heat which could result in our rivers, streams and dams coming under serve pressure.

The drought in KwaZulu-Natal offers a glimpse of the repercussions that could affect greater parts of South Africa. Large areas of the province are currently living with water restrictions.  

It is a reminder that our water resources are not infinite.  Every drop of water is precious and we all have a part to play in protecting it.

We can therefore no longer blindly assume that taps will never run dry, or that water will flow perpetually.  The clock is ticking and we must find ways to ensure that our water is used sustainably and share equitably.

“When you see a leaking tap, close it. When you see a leaking pipe on the road, inform the authorities,’’ President Zuma said. “Nobody should waste water. It is very scarce and we could find ourselves in difficulties if we do not act now to save water.”

The War on Leaks Project is a smart and innovative way to conserve water and raise awareness about water conservation.

The environmental benefits of this project are reduced demand on our water supply and better-managed water resources such as wetlands, which improve the quality and functioning of habitats and ecosystems. This also allows for better-quality water, improved health and reduced pollution.

The economic benefits are less wastefulness, which will mean more available water to meet demands. This in turn saves the country from having to build new infrastructure to store, treat and prepare water.

Water leaks accounts for nearly 36 per cent of the nation’s unaccounted for water and costs the country about R7 billion annually.

Importantly, the government will use the project to turn the challenge of water loss through leaks into a job-creation opportunity. Young unemployed people will be trained as water agents to visit communities to investigate water leaks and teach people how to conserve water.

President Zuma said “the distribution in terms of numbers recruited, trained and deployed over the five-year project period will be 3000 intake in 2015, 7 000 intake in 2016, and 5 000 intake in 2017 to make up the total of 15 000”.

Pupils will be drawn from all nine provinces, focusing in particular on those regions that are designated as high water-loss areas. The Department of Water and Sanitation will also train plumbers to reduce water loses and repair leaks.

Qualifying young people with Grade 12 or N3 with Maths and Science will be trained as fitters and turners, welders, instrument mechanics and electricians. These artisans will be placed at municipalities to do repairs, retrofitting and replacements.

Moreover, these skilled youth can market themselves in the job market and even become entrepreneurs, start their own small business and create employment.

Municipalities are already in the process of refurbishing the existing infrastructure, especially faulty and poorly maintained equipment as well as ageing infrastructure that results in leaks.

The War on Leaks project will strengthen the current work of the Department of Water and Sanitation and municipalities, with the rebuilding of broken pipes and other infrastructure.

South Africa could be free from leaks and on a path towards sustainable water conservation if all 54-million of us take action today. It is through the action of every individual that we can win the war on leaks.

Phumla Williams is a Deputy Director-General at GCIS.