By Brad Pearse; Principal – Private Equity: Nedbank CIB
The decent rains that have fallen in the Western Cape in recent months have helped to push out the feared ‘Day Zero’ and alleviated the immediate water access concerns of residents in the region. However, while they brought much needed short-term relief, the increasingly intermittent nature of rainfall in the province also serves as a stark reminder of just how fickle the weather can be and, more importantly, how crucial it is that South Africans across the country focus on assuring greater levels of self-reliance when it comes to their long-term water security.
It is common knowledge that South Africa is one of the driest countries in the world, and has one of the lowest average rainfall levels. Against this backdrop, it’s clear that water security cannot be the sole responsibility of local, provincial and national government. While the recent water shortages in many parts of the country have helped to catalyse action and investment by local authorities into more sustainable water provision solutions than the historical reliance on a small number of large dams, collective water security action by individuals, communities and the private and public sectors has now become essential, and very urgent.
In essence, the entire approach to drought management in this country is undergoing a dramatic paradigm shift from the historic disaster response to a proactive commitment to pre-empting and mitigating the potentially devastating impact of water shortages. Within this transformed strategic approach, effective smaller scale water storage methods for individuals, businesses and communities, have a hugely important role to play in terms of ensuring water resilience and reducing or, even, removing dependence on municipal water infrastructure.
The agriculture sector is a particular example of where this resilience through self-reliance is becoming crucial. According to the World Bank’s Agriculture Action Plan, around 60% of agricultural irrigation in developing, semi-arid countries like South Africa is rain-fed. This makes efficient water storage and management absolutely essential to the survival and growth of both commercial and small-scale farming operations. Key to this effective water management is the harvesting and storage of water during periods of good rainfall for irrigation use when water supplies are lower. Of course, very few farmers have access to dams for such water storage, which makes the provision of affordable storage options, like tanks and moveable reservoirs, vital.
And it’s not just farms that are becoming increasingly reliant on effective water harvesting and storage for their survival. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), in its report entitled ‘The Ripple Effect: A fresh approach to reducing drought impacts and building resilience’ specifies water harvesting, protecting water sources against contamination, and developing water sources like micro-dams, ponds and wells, as one of the key social strategies required to mitigate water insecurity and help deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
To this end, it is vital that businesses, communities and even individual households become highly proactive in collecting and storing water resources and, in particular, assisting those members of society who are most vulnerable to water shortages to do the same.
In this regard, Nedbank Group has long championed the cause of good water stewardship and continues to invest significantly into water resilience and access measures such as the clearing of alien vegetation around key catchment areas as well as the provision of boreholes and water collection devices for remote communities.
The recent acquisition by Nedbank Private Equity of a 44.4% stake in water investment holding- company, Wellspring, is an example of how Nedbank CIB is now taking this water security commitment a step further. The subsequent finalisation of a deal by Wellspring to acquire a majority stake in SBS Water Systems (SBS), a tank manufacturer, is an example of how Nedbank CIB is delivering on its purpose to use its financial expertise to do good by partnering with like-minded water security stakeholders to deliver water resilience for all South Africans.
SBS is a leading manufacturer and distributor of modular water storage tanks that have the potential to play a significant part in helping South Africans to effectively store water. Apart from the sales of these modular, affordable and easy-to-assemble tanks to municipalities, mines, businesses and commercial farms, Nedbank CIB, SBS and Wellspring are pursuing opportunities to work with local governments and relevant social upliftment organisations to deliver the storage solutions to vulnerable communities, thereby reducing their exposure to any negative impacts of future water shortage shocks.
The growing social challenges created by climate change are making the overlapping concepts of resilience and efficiency key tools required by both rural and urban populations to continue surviving and thriving in an increasingly resource-constrained world. Nowhere are these concepts more important right now than in the provision of water and sanitation, and enabling successful water harvesting and storage are arguably two of the most important aspects of ensuring water security to all members of society today.
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