A team of civil engineers recently sat down with the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, and her advisory team, to offer support and advice to address the challenges posed by the Western Cape water crisis.

The team which included representatives from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) and the South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) comprised six civil engineers with more than 200 years of expertise in the water engineering space, including water resources management, planning, infrastructure design, construction and academia.

The minister expressed her gratitude for the goodwill and offer of support and agreed with the team that all parties need to focus on dealing with the challenges in a collaborative and coherent fashion.

A focus on action and coordination

One of the key outcomes of the meeting was that the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre would be the main focus centre for action and coordination. To support this, the Department of Water and Sanitation also agreed to establish an emergency team in the Western Cape, led by a Deputy Director General immediately.

The technical, civil engineering capacity of the department of Water and sanitation as well as other spheres of government in general, were also discussed. A particular need was to identify people who could provide engineering and project management support to current interventions. Restoration of technical capacity for management, operation and maintenance is a priority.

Learning from past mistakes

The Minister recognised that while the short-term issues were being tackled, the long-term imperatives should also be considered. She agreed that the functions of water resources planning and operational analysis needed to be strengthened.

“The drought in the Western Cape offered an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. It showed the need for improved planning and modelling, and for early consultation to ensure that water users and other stakeholders are able to participate in these processes,” she concluded,