On 22 March 2017, South Africa celebrated World Water Day, encouraging its citizens to take action to mitigate the global water and sanitation crisis. Between 1990 and 2015, South Africa made substantial gains in improving access to safe drinking water, particularly in rural areas, with 93 percent of the population now accessing improved water sources (JMP 2015). As a water-stressed country, South Africa must manage its water resources wisely. Climate change and the accompanying droughts, water system losses, freshwater degradation exacerbated by urbanization, and poor water management practices all contribute to the stress on our freshwater resources. However, our lakes, rivers, streams, and underground aquifers are not the only sources of water to consider as we move forward.
This year’s World Water Day theme, “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource,” is particularly relevant to South Africa and to BORDA’s work here. Wastewater must be seen not as something which must be disposed of, but rather as a valuable resource to be utilized. Properly treated wastewater can boost drinking water supplies, provide essential nutrients for agriculture, produce energy from biogas, and more. South Africa has made significant gains in increasing access to sanitation and reducing open defecation during the last few decades; however, the work is not done. In 2015, more than one-third of the population still lacked access to improved sanitation facilities (JMP 2015). As we work toward increasing sanitation coverage, we must prioritize sanitation options that go beyond conventional waterborne sanitation and instead consider wastewater to be a valuable resource.
BORDA South Africa has been working closely with the innovative eThekwini Municipality Department of Water and Sanitation (EWS), winner of the 2014 Stockholm Industry Water Award, to implement Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Solutions (DEWATS) in new low-cost housing developments and informal settlements in non-sewered areas. BORDA, in partnership with EWS and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), has demonstrated DEWATS’ ability to treat wastewater to high standards without the use of electricity at the Newlands Mashu Demonstration DEWATS plant in Durban. Additionally, extensive agricultural research conducted at Newlands Mashu has shown that partially-treated DEWATS effluent is an effective irrigation water source and fertilizer. EWS considers DEWATS to be an accepted sanitation technology within the municipality, and BORDA is currently involved in nine DEWATS projects in various stages of the planning and design process in South Africa. We are hopeful that future projects will take advantage of the reuse benefits that DEWATS can offer.
On 22-24 March, South Africa—as one of 11 states represented in the UN High Level Panel on Water—has the honor of hosting the 2017 World Water Day Summit and Expo in Durban, in collaboration with UN Water and UNESCO. President Zuma, in his capacity as the UN panel’s lead representative on sanitation, will deliver the opening speech on 22 March. The three-day event will feature the launch of the 2017 United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR), present the United Nations/World Bank High Level Panel on Water (HLPW)’s initiative on "Access to Water and Sanitation for 10 Billion People," and adopt the Political Declaration on World Water Day 2017. A thematic session on Day 2 of the Summit will highlight DEWATS with a presentation from BORDA South Africa titled, “The challenges and opportunities of taking DEWATS to implementation – Lessons learnt in eThekwini.”
On 22 March, South Africa celebrated World Water Day, encouraging its citizens to take action to mitigate the global water and sanitation crisis