Floods are acts of God, droughts are acts of government – Fred Munro

On 2 December 2013 the South African Institution of Civil Engineering’s Civil Talk event took place at SAICE House, this time to debate South Africa’s drought preparedness and drought management.  

Rand Water, an industry leader and partner of choice in sustainable bulk water services, sponsored the event, which enabled a number of leading engineers and industry leaders to attend and participate.

The panel for this discussion included some of the best industry leaders and engineers well versed in water management:

  • Geoff Pegram (Professor Emeritus and a Senior Research Associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Civil Engineering Programme)
  • Beason Mwaka (Director for Water Resource Planning Systems – Department of Water Affairs)
  • Nandha Govender (Acting General Manager: Operations – Eskom)
  • Neil Macleod (Head of eThekwini Water and Sanitation)
  • John Critchley (Chief Planning Engineer – Rand Water)
  • Mike Muller (Commissioner in the National Planning Commission, visiting Adjunct Professor at the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management, Chairman of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Water Security, and former Director General of South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs (1997 – 2005)), and
  • Chris Herold (MD of Umfula Wempilo Consulting) who chaired the meeting.

The discussions centered on early warning mechanisms, drought management procedures, preparedness of water supply institutions to implement drought management measures effectively and whether the Department of Water Affairs has disaster management structures in place if a serious drought were to occur. A drought is highly likely with 2020 being the earliest date for the next phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme to become operational.

Each panelist had five minutes to discuss water from their viewpoint, highlighting what was to them critical points that the custodians of water in South Africa need to seriously address.  

What we need to express is the importance of managing water, especially to make the general public and some decision-makers aware of the importance of adequately preparing for drought before it is too late. Water supply and demand needs to be managed carefully and as a nation we need to become more water conscious – a water-stressed nation that looks towards other non-natural sources of water, whilst at the same time keeping accurate data and statistics ensuring better drought prediction.

South Africa needs to live within its water means and recognise the important role water limitations play within our country’s economic and social development. The social and productive potential of water should be harnessed adequately to benefit all.

What became apparent during the discussions is the need to engage with all relevant stakeholders and water custodians, including government, to better improve drought preparedness and drought management, which currently are not up to standard. As a result of this event, and its fruitful discussions, SAICE will present proposals to government regarding implementation and accountability to enable better reporting and effective use of resources. 


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