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Covid-19 infrastructure response should focus on water and sanitation

7th August 2020

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Water and sanitation infrastructure should be a top priority as South Africa recovers from the devastation of Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions, a new Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies policy brief proposes.

The opportunity to leverage an infrastructure- and job-creation-led Covid-19 response to deal with the country’s many water and sanitation infrastructure challenges should not be missed.

“Having a robust and resilient water and sanitation system will enhance the capacity of the country to respond to various challenges, including those presented by future pandemics similar to Covid-19,” authors Shakespear Mudombi and Gaylor Montmasson-Clair argue in the brief.

The policy brief, titled ‘A case for water and sanitation in South Africa’s post-lockdown economic recovery stimulus package’, highlights a number of complementary interventions to ensure water and sanitation remain part of the economic recovery strategy.

“While the collateral damage caused by the pandemic is yet to be assessed, there are suggestions that the South African economy is expected to contract by between 7% and 10% this year,” Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) acting chief director and spokesperson Sputnik Ratau comments.

“It is estimated that close to one-million jobs will be shed owing to Covid-19. The logical question to be asked is: How [will] different sectors contribute to post-Covid-19 recovery?”

In a bid to stimulate growth, different sectors have developed models on plans that will enable the economy to rise from the ashes of Covid-19, Ratau adds, noting that there are two discussion documents on how to ensure economic growth post Covid-19.

“Both documents draw parallels on how water is a flywheel by which the DWS will assist South Africa in growing the economy from the ashes of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Judging from the discussion documents, it has become clear that almost all government and other sectors’ envisaged visions to recover the economy draw a recurring conclusion that water infrastructure is a key enabler to deliver inclusive growth.”

While government undertook an “impressive” intervention to deliver emergency water storage tanks, water trucks and sanitisers to water-stressed communities during the pandemic, it has not been sufficient, it is relatively expensive and it only provides temporary relief.

However, an opportunity presents itself as part of a Covid-19 response to provide a more sustained and structural intervention to enhance water security, protect the economy and livelihoods and promote sustainability through the circular economy.

Investing in infrastructure will offer the economy and job creation multiple benefits, as well as protect employment and livelihoods, with about three-million jobs highly water dependent, most of which are in the agriculture sector, the policy brief notes.

The roll-out of water and sanitation infrastructure has the potential to stimulate industrial development, while boosting South Africa’s already well-established local capacity in the water sector.

“This can open opportunities for import substitution, particularly for pipes, pumps and valves, as well as automation and control equipment, and reduce South Africa’s dependence on imports.

“In addition, it can provide opportunities for small businesses to participate,” Montmasson-Clair and Mudombi point out.

Further, improving access to water and sanitation will contribute to reducing multidimensional poverty and inequality, the scale of which was highlighted during the Covid-19 crisis.

Benefits will be seen for poor communities in need of water infrastructure and services and for municipalities requiring their water and wastewater infrastructure to be strengthened.

“Investing in water and sanitation allows governments to tap into opportunities arising from the shift to a circular economy – one where less resources are used and waste is recycled into other uses or reuse,” the duo note.

The policy brief’s proposed interventions include addressing nonrevenue water, fostering water demand management, investing in water and wastewater treatment, building ecological infrastructure and rolling out appropriate sanitation systems.

“To implement these strategies, different options will need to be explored and their suitability would depend on the context. Some will need a change in legislation and institutional arrangement to overcome current technical and skills limitations in various municipalities,” the report highlights.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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