Spotlight: from analysis to action – shifting SA’s approach to water


When the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) cautioned in 2014 that South Africa was overexploiting its renewable water resources, the warning didn’t go unnoticed. After the release of Parched prospects –  the ISS’ first long-term analysis of South Africa’s water prospects – the Water Research Commission (WRC) approached ISS to collaborate.

A statutory body, the WRC aims to shape sustainable water policy in South Africa by building knowledge partnerships founded on sound research. With the ISS’ expertise in the International Futures (IFs) forecasting system, and its practical grasp of South Africa’s governance and development challenges, the partnership made good sense.

‘We’re really grateful for our partnership with the ISS’, says Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the WRC. ‘The ISS’ contribution has added real value to the issue of water in South Africa.’

'This report is very relevant given the water challenges that we are confronting in South Africa today'

‘The country needs a coordinated approach to water management across all tiers of government as well as civil society and individual residents,’ says Zachary Donnenfeld, ISS senior researcher and lead analyst on South Africa’s water future. ‘We need to work together to find solutions and implement actions that work in the long-term.’

In March this year, the ISS released an update of its previous projections. These are the only publicly available national water forecasts for South Africa up to 2035 ­­– the time period in government’s National Water Resource Strategy. Supported by the WRC, the results of the study were sobering. They showed that South Africa is no closer to preventing a water crisis than it was in 2014.

‘We accounted for every major reconciliation strategy planned by government’, says Donnenfeld. ‘We even rebuilt the entire water model in the IFs system to allow demand to be constrained by water availability.’

The analysis concluded that even if South Africa applies all of government’s existing plans and South Africans use less water, the country will still face water scarcity in the next 20 years.

The gravity of the situation is being discussed with policy makers. Speaking at a seminar on the latest ISS projections, Mlungisi Johnson who chairs Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation said: ‘This report is very relevant given the water challenges that we are confronting in South Africa today.’

The Department of Water and Sanitation also participated in the event. Deputy Director-General of Special Projects Trevor Balzer remarked on the timely release of the ISS study, saying ‘It emphasises and strengthens what the Department wants to do in its master plan’.

The ISS has proposed a range of practical strategies to secure the country’s water sector. ‘Organisations like the ISS and WRC must share knowledge and expertise with government departments and help them design solutions,’ says Donnenfeld.

Turning things around will however take significant financial investment and political will. ISS expertise can facilitate these complex decision making processes in government.

‘Only close collaboration can assist in achieving the goal of bettering the lives of ordinary South Africans,’ says Johnson. ‘You cannot have a highly technical department [like the Department of Water and Sanitation] that does not have enough skills. Something must be done urgently. Your partnership can help.’

For more details, contact:

Zach Donnenfeld, ISS:, +27 63 035 0876

For all ISS analysis of South Africa’s water challenges, see:

ISS Today articles:

Tackling South Africa's water supply problem

South Africa's water crisis is bigger than the Cape

South Africa can balance its water system, but the clock is ticking


Parched prospects II: A revised long-term water supply and demand forecast for South Africa

ISS Live: Preventing a national water crisis starts now

View on Africa: South Africa faces a dry future


What South Africa must do to prevent a national water crisis

Reports and papers:

Parched prospects: The emerging water crisis in South Africa

Parched prospects II: A revised long-term water supply and demand forecast for South Africa

A delicate balance: water scarcity in South Africa

Press releases and Spotlights:

South Africa can avoid a national water crisis

Spotlight: Finding solutions to South Africa's water crisis

Picture: Sifiso Mazibuko/WRC

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