our work

Divided by water

South Africa is a water scarce country receiving an average annual rainfall of less than 500 mm, falling well below the global average of 850 mm. Rising populations, climate change, and the current electricity crisis are placing increased pressure on the country’s limited water resources. Without intervention, a national water shortage is imminent, the effects of which will disproportionately be felt by poor and marginalised groups.

Water inequality in South Africa

As the most unequal country in the world, it is unsurprising that South Africa finds itself grappling with severe water inequality. The reasons behind this disparity, while multifaceted, are deeply rooted in discriminatory apartheid-era policies which historically denied rural black communities’ access to water and other basic services. However, inequitable access and quality of water services is not merely a thing of the past. Poor communities, often living in informal settlements, continue to experience water insecurity due to poor water resource management. These groups also suffer increased health risks from exposure to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation.

This growing ‘Water Divide’ was revealed during the 2017 – 2018 Cape Town water crisis when after a protracted drought the city almost ran out of water. When ‘Day Zero’ hit, wealthy South Africans were able to cope fairly easily, buying bottled water, travelling to natural springs and commissioning the drilling of private boreholes. Poor communities on the other hand were left struggling to access the resource due to financial and spatial constraints. Importantly, this event highlights the resilience of the wealthy to disasters and the vulnerability of the poor.

The connection between poverty, inequality, and disasters

Drought and other water-related disasters are projected to become more common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Impoverished and marginalised communities lack the resources, information, mobility, and social capital necessary to respond to these events. The United Nation’s International Day for Disaster Reduction recognises that “poverty, inequality and discrimination are causes and consequences of growing disaster risk” and brings attention to the need to increase vulnerable communities’ resilience to potential disasters. Because water inequality in South Africa is deeply intertwined with broader issues of poverty and inequality, going forward, it is crucial to tackle these wider issues alongside improved water management and conservation. It is promising to see that South Africa is taking steps towards this goal. As a signatory to the United Nation’s (UN) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, South Africa commits itself to reduce disaster risk and build resilience to disasters.

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Communities living in impoverished and marginalised communities frequently experience water insecurity and poor sanitation.

What is Umvoto doing to address the issue?

Umvoto is actively contributing towards achieving the UNs Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, “clean water and sanitation for all”. The company is involved in a range of projects across South Africa aiming to increase the nation’s supply of potable water through: 1) abstraction from wellfields, 2) managed aquifer recharge and 3) treatment of raw groundwater. Further, Umvoto believes that education, training, and capacity building are key to improved water resource management. As part of the Municipal Capability and Partnership Programme, Umvoto has offered groundwater support to over 34 rural and groundwater dependent villages in the Moses Kotane Local Municipality, North-West Province. Umvoto also works closely with its sister company, The Umvoto Foundation, whose mission is to support community development of clean ecosystems and water resources. Lastly, Umvoto is a participant in the Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030) campaign, an initiative aiming to enhance resilience in cities and human settlements based on the Sendai Framework’s core principles. By these means, Umvoto is committed to helping close the ‘Water Divide’ and reduce disaster risk.

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Umvoto offers groundwater support to rural villages in the Moses Kotane Local Municipality, North-West Province.
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8 Beach Road

muizenberg, Cape town