The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, as the custodian of the country¿s water resources, has to balance the long-term sustainable use and the protection of South Africa¿s water resources. According to the Minister, six million rural people had been supplied with safe basic water at a cost of R3, 8-billion since 1994, with groundwater contributing to this supply in many areas. "The provision of water to meet basic human needs remains one of the biggest challenges faced by our government. We have an enormous challenge to speed up the delivery of safe water to another eight million rural people, who are still without access to safe water", said Kasrils. He drew attention to the fact that 97% of the world¿s groundwater resources (excluding the ice caps) occurs as groundwater. 1.5. Billion people world wide are dependent on this resource.
Referring to the Table Mountain group aquifer stretching from the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth, Kasrils said that effective exploitation of this hidden treasure would go a long way to resolving South Africa¿s problem of water supply in an efficient, cost effective and sustainable way, far into the future.
With reference to South Africa¿s National Water Act, promulgated in 1998, the Minister said this piece of legislation represented some of the most progressive water legislation in the world and was viewed as one of the Government¿s significant achievements since 1994. "Now groundwater is specifically recognised as having the same standing in law as surface water resources and water managers are instructed to take into account every component of the water cycle and to manage it in an integrated way", said Kasrils.
Devolution of management to local level
One of the huge benefits of groundwater is that its abstraction can be locally controlled and monitored. Kasrils cited the village as an example of such local capacity building, where the well is widely seen as the source of life and security for the local community. With sufficient local involvement, the responsibility for groundwater management can effectively be devolved to a local level.
Addressing cost effectiveness and sustainability
Kasrils provided details of a government project to overcome problems of cost effectiveness and sustainability, while providing the minimum basic water supply. The project includes the recent establishment of a programme to install playground roundabouts, so called merry-go-rounds. While children play on the roundabouts, their energy is used to pump water into elevated storage tanks. The storage tanks are also used to display public health messages, in particular, around HIV and AIDS. A public-private partnership programme has been put in place to install the roundabout pumps, particularly in rural schools. Seventy sites would be located within KwaZulu/Natal before the end of the financial year, particularly in areas affected by cholera in order to mitigate the spread of the disease. An initial partnership with the World Bank, Kaiser Foundation and the manufacturers aims to install 160 roundabout pumps in rural areas as a starter.
In her keynote address, Graça Machel, in her capacity as UCT Chancellor and UN representative, expressed the hope that the deliberations of the Congress would advance scientific knowledge and deepen the understanding of the public and policy makers about the practical steps to be taken to extend access to the basic necessity of clean water.
Referring to recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique, Mrs Machel said these disasters demonstrated how easily water could become the cause of disruption, destruction and disease, if further social development and better management of water were neglected. "In a world in which the sustainable use of natural resources has reached a critical point, we need to marshal the formidable power of modern science and technology to tap potential that has so far been beyond our reach", said Mrs Machel. She stated that scientific knowledge and sustainable equitable practice could only be welded together by a powerful partnership of science, government, social movement and community, which in turn would pave the way for insights gained from experience and scientific investigation to help realise people¿s aspirations for a better life.
The congress is the first of its kind to be held in South Africa, and was hosted by the CSIR. Scientist from 40 countries is discussing priorities for groundwater in the new millennium.