“Sustainability begins and ends with construction, the materials used, the waste produced and the final built environment,” states the 2012 KPMG Global Construction Survey.

The 2012 Infrastructure Sector Research Survey carried out by Landelahni Business Leaders Amrop SA covers a few relevant topics taken from the South African Institution for Civil Engineering (SAICE) Infrastructure Report Card for South Africa 2011 (IRC). The Landelahni survey concludes that the slow pace of economic growth along with government delays in rolling out projects and awarding tenders continue to limit the recovery of the local infrastructure and construction sector. Furthermore a skills shortage is evident because South Africa is not training enough engineers, artisans and technicians to deliver on the long-awaited growth development plan.

The lack of skills or unsustainable deployment of the current source of civil engineering professionals, along with the lack of maintenance plans will dampen or even sink the improvement of existing infrastructure in South Africa if nothing is done about it. SAICE’S IRC, which places civil engineering at the heart of the country’s service delivery, is a detailed report on the state of civil engineering infrastructure in South Africa and covers ten sectors, which are evaluated and graded according to world standards. A short explanation of the symbols are:

A = World-class; B = Fit for the Future; C = Satisfactory for Now; D = At Risk and

E = Unfit for Purpose.

Sectors that were also covered in the 2012 Landelahni survey were water, waste, roads, rail and ports.

The condition of our nation’s drinking water systems, sanitation, roads, airports, harbours, electricity reticulation, hospitals, clinics and schools has a C- grading.Currently infrastructure at municipal level remains poor and is deteriorating in many places. Furthermore, the resilience of all new and previously existing infrastructure, is still questionable without a much improved commitment to maintenance. Infrastructure will need investment in the current medium-term expenditure framework period to avoid serious deficiencies.

Many areas continue to have no running water, toilets or electricity. The SAICE report indicated that there has been further deterioration of bulk-water infrastructure since the 2006 report, as a result of insufficient maintenance and neglected capital reward – an ongoing phenomenon. Salination of key waterways, sewage effluent and agriculture run-off in many dams and rivers are increasing the pressure on water treatment works that are already stretched to its limits.

National roads are said to be good to excellent, but nearly 80% of the network has exceeded its 20-year design life span, leaving big problems ahead. Paved provincial roads are in much poorer shape. The report cites shortages of skilled personnel, inadequate funding and a lack of routine maintenance.

“I would say the level of engineering experience (in SA) has definitely been reduced in the last five years,” says Allyson Lawless, Director, SAICE Professional Development and Projets, who wrote Numbers and Needs in Local Government in 2007. The problem is that as experienced people leave, they are replaced by people of very limited experience, so there is no one to train the youngsters,” she says. This is still continuing and getting worse. A good example is the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality where the only senior professional city engineer’s contract is not being renewed, leaving the city with no ECSA-registered professional.

Worse, Lawless says, decision-making on infrastructure does not reside in the technical departments of South Africa’s public sector. This impacts infrastructure management, supply chains, maintenance and operations.

So despite SA having achieved big strides in delivery of water, sanitation, electricity and transport, the report says unless there is bold leadership and effective management of infrastructure, a skills crisis will leave a vacuum in future. That and the spiralling wage costs for the pubic sector at all three levels of government has compromised the ability to keep up with vital maintenance.

Various commissions and agencies established to solve problems in local government can research and examine but the service delivery infrastructure can only be made a reality by civil engineering professionals.

On the positive side, SA provides world-class aviation infrastructure at most airports, and since 2006 Transnet has provided port upgrades and infrastructure at a steady pace, however SA’s harbours still need follow-up maintenance.

South Africa’s national electricity generation infrastructure is said to be in satisfactory condition, with a reasonable maintenance regime that can meet demand. But local electricity distribution networks are characterised by inadequate operating and maintenance capacity, with ageing and overloaded infrastructure in many areas.

It is clear that infrastructure and maintenance underpin quality of life and economic development. If these are inadequate it will impede on social and economic growth in South Africa – something our country just cannot afford. Furthermore, civil engineering is at the heart of service delivery. Civil engineering is all about people – creating quality of life.

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