Most people know that 21 March was Human Rights Day in South Africa. Less known is the fact that Sunday 22 March was World Water Day. It might be quite significant that these 2 days follow each other so closely. This year the focus of World Water Day was on the waters that cross borders and link us together.
There is a direct link between the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and the cholera epidemic in our northern neighbour. The water-borne disease has in recent months spreaded to South Africa. Early December last year the Limpopo river that forms the border between the two countries, has tested positive for cholera. The closure of the refugee centre at the showgrounds in Musina less than 2 weeks ago made it even more difficult to contain the spread of the disease as more infected people travelled deeper into South Africa.
According to the official World Water Day website, “The world’s 263 transboundary lake and river basins include the territory of 145 countries and cover nearly half of the Earth’s land surface. Great reservoirs of freshwater also move silently below our borders in underground aquifers.”
The Times displays a slideshow entitled World water wars, quoting water expert Fred Pearce: “In the past the world has gone to war for many reasons – land, oil, gold. As populations rise – future wars will be sparked by water scarcity.”
The Mail & Guardian asks in an online article yesterday: As climate changes, is water the new oil? The South African Water Research Commission writes about Water Day under the heading: Transboundary waters: We all live downstream.
I like the comment on the official World Water Day site: “Whether we live upstream or downstream, we are all in the same boat.” This also seems to be the spirit in which one of our own water experts, dr Anthony Turton approaches the water situation in South Africa.
Having been controversially suspended from the CSIR last year before he was about to present a paper at a scientific conference, he recently commented on the blogpost I wrote about his suspension. He said he doesn’t want to get embroiled in an ongoing dialogue about his suspension but that he is working along with a few others on the formation of a new company, TouchStone Resources where they are developing their dream team of water experts that will offer their skills to stakeholders in the water sector who are interested to work with them.
I asked him 4 questions to which he provided some interesting answers:
1) Am I right in saying that you still have opportunities to continue the debate and help find solutions?
2) Who are other key role players (individuals & organisations) that are working on preventing a national water crisis?
3) Do you agree with dr Kobus van Zyl’s assessment that the biggest single problem lies at local government level?
4) Apart from using water sparingly, what can ordinary citizens do to help secure the future of South Africa’s water?
I have asked critical questions about our minister of water affairs, Mrs Lindiwe Hendricks because she said in parliament last year that there is no water crisis in South Africa. I was pleasantly surprised by Turton’s comment that “I am working closely with the DG of DWAF, and also the Minister. I have close professional relationships with both and those relationships are robust. These are good people that need our support. I have never pointed a finger of blame, because I believe this to be unhelpful in finding solutions. I am a solution-seeker not a blame-apportioner.”
(The DG of DWAF is the Director General of the Department of Water and Forrestry).
Read dr Turton’s full comments here. Educate yourself about water, don’t take it for granted that you can open a tap and drink clean water. Spread the word about this precious resource!