Water crisis could affect prices and jobs

November 6, 2015, 1:10pm

By Bekezela Phakathi, Business Day Live. Photo: Thinkstock

The drought may trigger job losses and a rise in food prices.

Moreover, scientist Anthony Turton warns SA is on the verge of a human health crisis of unprecedented proportions because of its poorly managed water infrastructure.

Western Cape MEC for economic opportunities Alan Winde says agriculture and agri-processing would be worst hit by the drought. The apparel, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, major employers in the province, would also feel the heat.

Laundromats and car washes are being encouraged to manage water use.

Farmers are battling to keep up with the runaway costs of production amid crop failure and could ease some of the pressure by shedding jobs, while food costs could rise due to a grain and water shortage.

The Western Cape’s main feeder dams are at their lowest average levels in 20 years, raising the possibility of water restrictions. The Swartland has experienced one of the driest seasons in 75 years.

In the province’s Ceres region, dams are between 40% and 50% full after one of the driest winters in years.

Prof Turton, affiliated professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State and a specialist in water resource management, said yesterday the biggest systemic failure the drought would reveal was the near total collapse of sewage management and processing systems countrywide.

A total 4-billion litres of untreated sewage was contaminating SA’s strategic water storage capacity, said Prof Turton.

A Council for Scientific and Industrial Research report has shown more than 60% of SA’s 50 biggest dams were "contaminated by cyanobacteria fed by sewage and stimulated into exponential growth by elevated temperatures", he said.