In recent years South Africa’s electricity shortage problems have rightfully taken centre stage and our media has been filled with factual and emotional stories on the topic. In fact this important issue has been put on such a lofty platform that other key resource debates have had to take a seat well back in the government bus.

We live in what is mostly a semi-desert country and while electricity supply is a key to economic growth, we cannot live without a constant supply of fresh water. Our farmers who feed the nation use more than 50% of South Africa’s fresh water and without it we would clearly starve. Most of the debate around water in recent years has centred on Acid Mine drainage in Gauteng, as well as the impact of fracking on ground water supplies. We are often told that South Africa is not a water rich country but what are we doing about this? One could be forgiven for thinking that there is precious little planning around national water security and skills creation to help us become a more efficient user of this precious resource.

That is until last month’s announcement by Trevor Manuel. The National Planning Minister of a revised National Development Plan which calls for the establishment of a national agency to manage the availability of enough water. Describing water as potentially the biggest limit to growth in the economic and agricultural sectors, the document proposes to: “establish a national water-resources infrastructure agency.” The document states that there is growing concern about the countries water future and “the ability of the current water administration to cope with emerging challenges”.

Other concerns mentioned in the document where that “administrative failures and the absence of enforcement indicate that management quality is deteriorating and institutional memory is eroding.”  The document calls for the urgent need of a coherent plan to ensure protection of water resources.

Areas which the document focuses on are a call for a massive increase in water efficiency, leak detection and water quality. The plan calls for a dedicated national programme to provide support to local and sectoral efforts to reduce water demand and increase efficiency.

While calling for this type of urgent action is commendable the development plan will live or die in its ability to implement a comprehensive action plan and the support this plan gets from government through legislation and price increases. South Africa today lacks the skills required to implement this type of action plan and a key element of its success will be the up skilling of farmers and water services organisations. As the price of water in South Africa is minimal the urgency to rectify this problem is simply not yet there. If we cast our minds back less than 10 years the same issues prevailed on electricity. The price of electricity was so low that Eskom’s calls for action fell on deaf ears until several price increases and incentive programs led us towards a change.

On the legislation front, we need tangible changes that will motivate excessive users and industries of water to not waste and to reuse and recycle wherever possible. A water tax has often been thrown into the debate and this step is inevitable given the announcements around carbon emissions taxes to come from the Department of Finance however it will be years before this takes effect. Legislation and Taxes need to be balanced with the creation of incentive programmes that reward entities for water conservation practices that benefit us all. Incentives around specific technologies that can be implemented as well as behaviour changes are a good carrot to offer uses.

On the price increase front, what is needed is a few steep price increases to ensure that society realises that while water is a human right (as ensconced in our Constitution) one does not have the right to abuse this gift of the commons. While this will not be popular it will make people think when using this non renewable resource.

Finally and possibly most importantly, a number of new jobs are needed to fulfil the skills vacuum that exists today in water efficiency and management. Education and skills creation is an area that can have an immediate effect on the water scarcity issue. New professions like Community Water Manager, Water Auditor, Water Minimisation Expert, Water Quality Manager and Water Flow Manager will need to be created and individuals gaining these skills will know their skills are needed. It’s with this vision in mind that Terra Firma Academy has launched its Water Efficiency Management course.

The Introduction to water management course is aimed at individuals who want to build a career around advising businesses on how to measure and reduce their water consumption immediately and for those who want to extend their immediate skill sets in order to be able to implement an in-house water management strategy. Learners will be able to conduct financial assessments of each solution and will get a strong understanding of how to recommend solutions that maximise the customers return on investment.

The water debate is just starting! We need to take action now and to build the skills required to ensure efficient usage of water resources in our country.