Massive turnout at South Africa’s first water stewardship conference

Almost 200 people from government, civil society organisations and over 40 different companies flocked to Sandton to participate in the first ever regional water stewardship conference to be held in South Africa on 27 and 28 October 2015. GIZ’s International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP), the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) and the National Business Initiative (NBI) organised the conference together with the goal of promoting the concept of water stewardship.

This event came at a time that South Africa is facing a range of serious water-related challenges. South Africa loses 829 million m³ of water annually, i.e. the equivalent of 330 olympic-sized swimming pools, due to failing infrastructure and inefficient water management practices. The country is dealing with water restrictions in six provinces affected by the prevailing drought conditions. Agriculture, industry, energy generation and households are all competing for access to this scarce resource. It is by now widely acknowledged that water is posing a real threat to economic growth in the country.

“The response to this conference was overwhelming,” said Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister of Water and Sanitation, at the event. “It reflects the acknowledgement by all sectors that water has become one of the biggest risks facing governments and businesses today; a risk that cannot be tackled by one sector alone.” Minister Mokonyane delivered the key note address, while German Ambassador to South Africa, Walter Lindner, also addressed participants.

Over the two days, more than 30 people from various organisations shared their knowledge and practical experience in water stewardship with the conference delegates through short presentations or panel discussions. Topics included the benefits and challenges of water stewardship, what role different sectors can play, what is required on a policy level to create a conducive environment for stewardship, as well as how to practically implement water stewardship activities. IWaSP brought some of its project partners from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and the Caribbean to the conference to also share their experiences with the South African delegates.

IWaSP is currently putting into action a diverse range of water stewardship projects in South Africa and the above-mentioned countries on behalf of the UK and German Governments. The programme supports companies to become water stewards; companies are encouraged to work together with other role players, such as community organisations and the relevant government authorities, in the catchments in which they operate to together address shared water risks e.g. scarcity, water wastage or wastewater treatment challenges. IWaSP facilitates the establishment of such partnerships, manages these partnerships and provides technical input to the measures needed to address the specific water risks.

What is water stewardship?

Stewardship is about taking care of something you don’t own, but are dependent on. Water is a shared resource – no one owns it, but everybody needs it; everybody also shares the risk when facing drought or other water-related problems. Water stewardship is about taking responsibility for your impact on this shared resource. It’s about working with those you share the resource with to tackle the shared risks, together.

South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, gave an inspiring key note address at the water stewardship
German Ambassador to South Africa, Walter Lindner, explains his view on the importance of water for South Africa’s development.