Wastewater – a key strategy to tackle growing water scarcity in Africa.

On 22 March annually the world celebrates World Water Day, which is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners globally.

This year, the theme is ‘Wastewater’, shining a light on reducing and reusing wastewater, recognising that safely managed wastewater provides an affordable and sustainable source of water and in some cases energy. The South African Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) dedicates a whole week between 17 and 23 March, to National Water Week, reiterating the value of water and the need for sustainable management of this scarce resource.  African water and wastewater solutions leader, Talbot & Talbot, provides innovative, sustainable solutions to the global water crisis through the management of  this scarce resource across the continent.  This is achieved through the design, construction and operation of water and wastewater treatment plants.

Water scarcity – a global crisis

The global demand for water is estimated to increase by 50% by 2030. For over 633 million people, opening a tap and having access to safe potable water, is a luxury far out of their reach.  A shocking 1.8 billion people currently make use of water sources with faecal contamination, placing them at risk of cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.  Over 80% of the world’s wastewater flows back into the ecosystem, without being safely treated or appropriately reused.

South Africa – a country at risk?

The South African Health Review of 2016 highlights that South Africa has made significant progress regarding access to water for all, with virtually all urban households and most rural households having access to piped water.  Although a very worthy achievement for the post-apartheid era, water itself remains a limited resource.

Increasing populations and a growing industry place pressure on catchments in South Africa that can’t keep up with the demand.  The catchments in KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Bay are highly stressed.  Despite planned strategic initiatives by the DWS, water supply deficits are projected.  Further challenges for the country include the large proportion of the population that are already vulnerable to waterborne diseases due to lack of water services or intermittent access to water.

Action is required – on global and local scale

Beyond the African experience, it is evident that on a global scale a clear strategy and action plan is required to address the growing water concern.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a UN-initiative launched in 2015 recognises the crucial role clean, safe water plays in eradicating extreme poverty, improving food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities.  It includes ensuring access to water and sanitation for all as a key goal to reach by 2030 and places specific emphasis on improved wastewater management.

The United Nations’ flagship report on water, the World Water Development Report (WWDR), is published each year with a renewed focus and strategy on a particular water issue.  The 2017 report, “Wastewater: The untapped resource” will be launched in Durban, South Africa on 22 March 2017 and is at the core of the World Water Day theme.

Wastewater – the unsung hero

In the face of growing concerns regarding climate change, the need to meet the escalating demand and efforts towards reaching the SDGs, innovative approaches to wastewater management and water recovery is imperative.  Managing Director of Talbot & Talbot, Mr Carl Haycock notes, “Treated wastewater may be a key strategy to meet the water needs on the African continent and can also help to address parallel challenges of food production and industrial development.”

The augmentation strategies developed for the catchments in South Africa include, but are not limited to, treatment and reuse of wastewater, which is critical to contributing to the drive to provide sufficient water for population growth and industrial demands.  Industrial water use accounts for approximately 8% of total water usage in South Africa.  It has been projected that in rapidly industrialising countries current proportions could increase five times over the next 10 – 20 years.  Talbot & Talbot supports industrial clients across Africa to reduce their water demand, and consequently their impact on the catchment.  This is achieved through the treatment and recycling of wastewater using various technologies, some of which results in the production of biogas energy as a by-product.  Industrial wastewater recovery can reach between 60% and 85% of total wastewater discharged, depending on the quality of the effluent received for reuse and the optimisation protocols applied in operation.  The water reuse by industries within their processes improves water availability in the catchment which ultimately supports social and economic development, driving the SDGs.

Although South Africa has nearly 1000 municipal wastewater treatment facilities in operation, it is estimated that only 26% of sewage is adequately treated before being discharged into rivers.  The operation of municipal wastewater treatment plants also requires a high skill level.  Through Talbot & Talbot’s technical experts including technical directors through to process specialists at the central management hub and site-specific management and staff who are responsible for the daily operation of plants, municipal, private and industrial clients across Africa are offered innovative and sustainable solutions to their wastewater challenges.  All sites operated by Talbot & Talbot have 24-hour access to process specialist support in case of plant upsets.

Why waste water?

Societal and environmental pressures on the industrial sectors to reduce wastewater and to treat it appropriately before discharge, is likely to grow over the coming years.  In support of National Water Week, Talbot & Talbot shares some very basic guidelines for industry consideration to manage wastewater and improve water efficiences:

  1. Start by unpacking your water footprint by identifying your current water intake, usage and discharge. This is critical in the process to identify potential opportunities for water efficiencies, savings and reuse.
  2. Identify opportunities to reduce your water use in your process and use wastewater in your business itself or between several businesses to form a viable symbiotic relationship.
  3. Treated wastewater can be used back in the process, for cooling and/or heating and rainwater from roof collection can be used for flushing of toilets or irrigation.

Through the collaborative effort of government, society and industry we can make a substantial contribution towards reaching the SDGs and ensure we preserve and protect a most precious resource.