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The global concern of water conservation recently brought together a panel of high level global leaders. The panel met in South Africa and discussed ways in which water use can be harnessed to increase the amount of water saved around the world, especially in arid areas.

As host country of the United Nations’ Valuing Water Regional Consultation, South Africa called on world leaders to make meaningful inputs into the draft document on Valuing Water Principles. The final document aims to contribute significantly to the work of governments to save water.

South Africa has been chosen as the first country to host the High Level Panel on Water’s (HLPW) Regional Consultation. This consultation was used to understand the views of all segments within the water community as well as other sectors including agriculture and energy.

The consultations, which are also expected to take part in other countries around the world, will culminate at the presentation of a report on valuing water, which will be presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations in September this year.

Members of the HLPW included heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

Speaking on behalf of water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane at the consultation was public service and administration minister Faith Muthambi. She said the consultations were a platform for government representatives and organisations to share national perspectives and positions on the critical issue of water.

Muthambi explained that water was a cross-cutting matter as it spoke to all aspects of development and was also linked to different policy positions and legislative imperatives. She added that water authorities should engage honestly, while raising awareness about the harmful impacts of illegal water use and the violation of laws and regulations.

Muthambi said members on the panel had the same vision which was partly aimed at assessing the impact of water programmes in the region.

She also said the panel was an opportunity for delegates to consider the different challenges that countries face. These included levels of access to clean water, monetary value attached to water as a critical resource, policy perspective in the region, equity and user requirements, as well as legislative imperatives and government obligations.

“These challenges will be the contributing and determining factors in deciding on the ‘Principles of Valuing Water’ that we envisage at the end of the [consultation] process,” Muthambi said.

She added that with water as an embedded right in the South African Constitution, government must do all it can to ensure water can be accessed at different levels of affordability across all communities, as well as for industrial and commercial users.

Looking at water differently

If Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on water are to be achieved, water needs to be looked at differently, water and sanitation director general Dan Mashitisho said.

He added that this issue was taken seriously, as seen by Mokonyane when she emphasised the importance of a collaboration with the Global Water Partnership during her recent Budget Vote speech in Parliament.

Deputy energy minister Thembisile Majola highlighted the problem of acid mine drainage which also negatively impacts South Africa’s water resources. Majola said that going forward the bar must be set high for the mining industry to plough back into the environment to counter the effects of their operations.

Urgent action needed

World Bank special advisor Patrick Vincent Verkooijen warned that the pressure on water resources is rising and said urgent action is needed.

The World Bank recently released a report titled ‘High and Dry’, which indicated that if left unchecked, water will become more scarce, polluted and much more unpredictable in the years to come. The report also warned that some of regions will see growth rates decline 6% by 2050 and economic growth rates decline by 60%.

“Water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth. However, the world has agreed on a different pathway,” Verkooijen said. “Led by South Africa in 2011 in Durban, the world agreed in 2015 and in 2017 to sustainable water development goals… That’s the vision and that’s the aspiration.

“…The world needs to transform the way it manages water,” he added. “It requires political engagement at the level of heads of states and government, ministers of finance and planning, agriculture, energy, health and other parts of government, as well as key public-private and civil society stakeholders in order to galvanise action at the scale and speed required.”

Ambassador of the Netherlands Marisa Gerards said her country was happy to participate in the panel and thanked South Africa for hosting the consultations.

“It’s a unique and important platform and we have to push for [the SDG on water], and we really need to be creative,” she said.

She added that the Netherlands has offered to champion the initiative within the high level because it believes the world has no other choice than to incorporate the value of water within policy decisions.