The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is preparing to launch its own series of mini-Phakisa’s to attempt to resolve the most pressing matters facing South Africa‘s water infrastructure sector.

Over the next eight weeks, the department will mobilise provincial level Phakisa’s prior to driving the outcomes into a major national level Phakisa by March.

The planning and problem-solving period is likely to take four to six weeks to complete; however, owing to the complexities and scale of the challenges facing the water sector, the Phakisa must first be broken into mini provincial scale planning phases before elevating it to a central national level, DWS strategic and emergency projects deputy director-general Trevor Balzer said on Friday.

“There have been operation Phakisas for the agricultural sector, the health sector, the rural development sector and the oceans economy,” he pointed out.

Now it was the water industry’s turn, with a focus on the priority points of the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, he told delegates at a meeting with water services authorities (WSAs).

This followed Cabinet’s approval last year for a collaborative, embedded planning initiative using the Phakisa methodology to enable sector partners to agree on the concrete actions, budgets and timeframes necessary to implement the master plan. The master plan identifies the priority actions required until 2030 to ensure water security and unlock equitable access to water and sanitation.

The plan is based on five key objectives that define a new normal for water and sanitation management in South Africa, Balzer said.

This includes resilient and fit-for-use water supply; universal water and sanitation provision; equitable sharing and allocation of water resources; effective infrastructure management, operations and maintenance; and a reduction in future water demand.

“We want to make sure the master plan is not just a plan sitting on the shelf. We have to be ready for the future and can not wait for the pressure point,” he commented, referring to the severe, prolonged drought the country is experiencing.

He noted that there was a need to do more with less water and severely limited funds.

It is estimated that there is a R33-billion shortfall every year of the estimated R90-billion required a year for a sustainable water sector.

He highlighted several other challenges, including the more than three-million South African residents still without access to basic water supply and the 14.1-million with no access to safe sanitation.

Further, municipalities have made little progress in the conservation targets set out in the National Development Plan, with the average municipal water use currently at 237 litres per person a day compared with the global average of 173 litres per person a day.

Exacerbating this is the fact that the responsibility for water and sanitation supply lay with 144 municipalities that are also WSAs. However, a third of these are deemed dysfunctional and more than 50% lack sufficient technical staff.

Non-revenue water in municipalities is now estimated at 41%, leading to a revenue loss of R9.9-billion a year.

“The institutional landscape of the water sector is overly complex and not sufficiently transformed,” Balzer stated.