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Professor Ncube Highlights Need for Equitable Water Access on World Water Day

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Establishment of Water Resource Infrastructure Agency set in motion

World Water Day

South Africa commemorates the value of water alongside the global community on World Water Day, celebrated on the 22nd of March each year. The day’s significance is heightened by voices from the academic and research arena calling for action against water inequality across the nation’s historically underserved regions.

Professor Bongani Ncube, the Chairperson of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) stressed the importance of addressing water scarcity in the country’s marginalized communities. “I’m talking about water for productivity, water for agriculture, [and] water that will take people out of poverty,” he emphasized, highlighting the necessity for access to water that transcends basic needs and fosters economic uplift.

SARChI, a creation from the joint efforts of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) since 2006, has set out to fortify the research and educational capacities of public universities. The goal is the production of top-tier postgraduate students and innovation outputs capable of facing contemporary challenges.

Located at the Centre for Water and Sanitation Research within the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Ncube is a leading figure appointed under the umbrella of the DSI-NRF SARChI program.

Ncube expressed concern over the persistent water access issues aggravated by bureaucratic licensing systems that have historically failed numerous communities. “The compulsory licensing, validation and verification processes, which were supposed to enable the release of excess water to communities, has not worked very well,” he remarked, drawing attention to the improved yet still inadequate measures that have left many without what is termed productive water.

The theme ‘Leveraging Water for Peace’ for this year’s World Water Day resonates on a local level, reflecting upon a history of conflict and the quest for socioeconomic progress, shedding light on necessary policy amendments for equitable water distribution.

“South Africa has a very complicated history when it comes to access to resources, including water. The historical access [which] dates back centuries when water access mechanisms favoured the more privileged white communities, remains a challenged,” Ncube elucidated the deeply-rooted injustices that still linger after policies post-1994 sought to democratize water access for all South Africans.

In light of the Draft National Water Amendment Bill introduced in November 2023, Professor Ncube expressed approval. The Bill promises a stride forward in tackling the inequities not fully addressed by the National Water Act of 1998. The focus is on reshaping the water allocation framework to better meet the demand of all communities.

While significant improvements in household water access are noted—with a Statistical South Africa report indicating 88.7% accessibility by 2021—Ncube warns of the aggravating impact of climate change and drought on water scarcity. “It is important for the government to realise that, while situations like that occur, it is the poor that are the most affected and it is important that measures are put in place in terms of providing access,” he concluded.

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