Connect with us


Water , The new oil?

Africa could go to war over water unless millions are spent. Should it be harvesting storm water, desalinating ocean water or is it all too expensive in a continent where too much water can also spell tragedy?



It was a painful ordeal for a parent.

In most African cultures, rain is a sign of blessings. The irony is, in this case, the poorest of the poor, who need the water the most, are the ones who hurt the most when it rains.

Three-year-old Everlate Chauke, her father Shadrack, and mother Cynthia were in their makeshift home in Alexandra, next to the Jukskei River, six kilometers from Africa’s richest square mile, Sandton, when it started to pour. When water filled their shack, they climbed a tree for safety; Cynthia on one branch, Everlate and Shadrack on the other. The branch broke and Everlate fell into the raging waters. Shadrack jumped in after her, but couldn’t find her. What started as a celebration, amid South Africa’s longest drought ever, ended in death and despair. Little Everlate was found 10 kilometers downstream, almost three weeks later.

The Chauke family is among 150 other people who lost their homes and property in the downpour at the Setswetla settlement in Alexandra. Several other people around Johannesburg died during the floods and many others lost their property. Yet, Africa may one day go to war over the lack of water. Too much water can take lives – yet so can the lack of water that one day Africa may go to war over. It has already happened elsewhere in the world.

The Khedevite of Egypt invaded Ethiopia, in the mid-1870s, to gain control of the Nile River. The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is largely about control of the Indus River. For now, for most of Africa, it’s a king-sized headache.

On March 10, major dams in Africa were down. In Lesotho, Katse Dam, the highest dam in Africa built in the Maluti Mountains, was 53.6% full; Swaziland’s dams stood at 75.8% and in Zimbabwe, Kariba Dam, one of the biggest in Africa at 128-meter tall and 579-meter long, stood at 32.8%. Water levels in Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya and most of the rest of Africa remain low. The UN warns of a looming crisis.

“Let us commit to invest in water security as a means to ensure long-term international peace and security,” says  former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ratings agency, Moody’s, early last year, went as far as to say a lack of water was causing rising inflation, risking a weak South African economy going into recession. It is so concerning that, Cape Town’s Executive Mayor, Patricia de Lille, declared the city of the rich a disaster zone. At the time of going to print, the city had just over 100 days of useable water left.

The problem is the average household uses about 20,000 liters of water a month but Cape Town’s top water wasters, located on Haywood Road‚ Crawford‚ used a shocking 702,000 liters in one month. The city is naming and shaming all water wasters in an attempt to ensure they comply. On February 1, the city introduced harsher water restrictions; meaning everyone should use 30% less water or face a R5,000 ($380) fine and a higher bill. It is helping.

On March 6, in the Western Cape province, dam levels had dropped to 31.5%, which was 1.6% down from the week before. If the situation does not change, the province could run out of fresh water in dams by 2019.

“With the last 10% of a dam’s water mostly not being useable, dam levels are effectively at approximately 21.5%. Consumption has broken through the 800 million liter barrier for the first time to 783 million liters of collective use per day, but we have still not achieved the new collective usage target of 700 million liters per day,” says the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services, Councillor Xanthea Limberg.

Water Scarcity: Cooperation or Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa?, an article in Foreign Policy Journal written by Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza, International Relations lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, and International Relations researcher, Markus Heinrich, suggests while Africa struggles to quench its thirst, some regions of the world have ample supply of this scarce resource.

“While 70% of the planet is covered in water, only 2.5% of it is fresh water. Of this, only 1% is easily accessible, as much of the world’s freshwater is trapped in glaciers and ice caps. Compounding this is that this scarce resource is very unevenly distributed,” say Pedraza and Heinrich.

One problem is Africa is not pouring money where the rivers flow.

Water projects account for a meagre 1.3% of total infrastructure investment in Africa, according to the Africa Construction Trends 2016 report by Deloitte Africa. The report notes that there are only 15 water projects across the continent, valued at $4.8 billion, in comparison to 271 non-water infrastructure projects valued at $319.2 billion. The water sector is thirsty for investment. But it’s not that simple.

“If you are asking the private sector to finance water, what’s the return, who is going to pay them and how are they going to collect their money? Water is a basic human right. This also colors how people treat water from a drinking point of view. Should you be paying for something that falls from the sky? In many instances, the charges that cities levy on water are often far too low from a cost recovery basis,” says John-Pierre Labuschagne, Infrastructure & Capital Projects Leader at Deloitte.

According to Labuschagne, water does have an opportunity for investors.

“The economics behind it though is what makes it difficult… The trick is how do we get the water from the dams to the cities? The water network is crucial. It needs to be rehabilitated and also expanded,” he says.

Ethiopia is leading the way to a solution with its $5-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.

Located about 500 kilometers north west of the capital, Addis Ababa, in the region of Benishangul-Gumuz along the Blue Nile, it is expected to be completed in July this year. It will be the largest dam in Africa at 1,800 meters long, 155 meters high and with a total volume of 74 billion cubic meters. The dam will generate some 6,000 megawatts of electricity which will be sold to neighboring countries and is expected to aid Ethiopia’s growing economy.

This world’s ninth biggest hydroelectric project dam, however, has been under fire because it will flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest, displace 20,000 people and possibly affect the flow of the Nile River, which is shared by Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

In Namibia, 4,860 kilometers south of the Nile, the answer is desalination.

Dewald Duvenhage, General Manager: Engineering Services at the Swakopmund municipality in Namibia, says desalination may be the only solution for the water problems Africa faces. The only problem is it uses a lot of energy.

“If the energy is renewable – solar panel farms, wind generation, concentrated solar power – all with suitable storage to allow 24-hours-a-day operation – then yes, it is sustainable. Interesting also is that all the large luxury shipping passenger liners are producing their water with desalination,” he says.

Sustainable, yes. Cheap, not so much.

The Namibian government is considering desalination with a special Cabinet committee, but media reports indicate that about N$57 billion ($4.36 billion) may need to be spent on it.

“Desalination water is presently exclusively used for mining water supply, yet since the same pipes transport and the same reservoirs store the water, we are all drinking desalination water mixed with borehole water as far as Henties Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis is concerned,” says Duvenhage.

He says we should use water responsibly but should also consider other avenues.

“We may consider recycling – but given the complications when industrial waste pollutes water, it is cheaper and physically simpler to desalinate seawater than to recycle sewage back to potable water. Yet we should first ask whether there is anything we can do to solve the energy supply crisis. No energy, no desalination, no water,” he says.

Professor Neil Armitage, the Head of the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management research unit, agrees that desalination is expensive and power-hungry.

“Most of our power is generated by thermal power stations that contribute to greenhouse gases contributing to global warming and contributing to climate change which is what caused the problem in the first place,” says Armitage.

That’s not all. For many years, Australia had a drought and opted for desalination plants, which according to Armitage, would cost between AUD2 billion ($1.5 billion) and AUD4 billion ($3 billion). As Australia was in the process of commissioning them, it rained.

“There were major floods, people were washed away in cars, reservoirs filled up and the residents said they don’t want to pay for the water when they can have water at a quarter of the price from the tap,” he says.

To do a similar project in Johannesburg or Cape Town, according to Armitage, may cost anything between R30 billion ($2.3 billion) and R50 billion ($3.8 billion).

“Someone proposed to me that we should build an undersea pipeline from the Congo River to Cape Town… another said can’t we get water from the Orange River to Cape Town… these are very expensive for something that can be managed if we change the way we manage our water.”

Armitage says two to three times more rain falls on Cape Town than is distributed to the people. The rest of it is wasted.

“There are two ways of dealing with that. One is rain water harvesting where you have a rain barrel taking water straight off your roof. This is very common in farming rural areas… the biggest problem though is that Cape Town’s climate has long dry summers and relatively short winters. You need more water in summer time than winter… If you are going to make rain water harvesting to work, you will need rainfall all year round.”

Another option is storm water harvesting.

“If we can find a way of harvesting that, storing it and treating it, then there is potential to supply all the cities with storm water. The reality is, it is very difficult. Storage and quality is a problem. Storm water can be very polluted,” he says.

It has worked in Singapore. For years, the country heavily relied on imported water from Malaysia and catchment water. Now it also has NEWater, produced from treated purified used water and desalination.

“In Cape Town, we have a natural sand aquifer on the Cape Flats. We are doing research to see if we can’t store water underground for periods of time; could be a month, six months or a year. It has been done in Cape Town for many years up on the coast where, for about 40 years, water to [the Western Cape town] Atlantis came from harvested storm water, treated sewage affluent put into the ground and then taken out again after a period of time… we are proposing to do something similar but on a bigger scale.”

It’s time Africa pours more money in its water, before a long dry season could lead to war.



Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?




How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

Continue Reading

Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation



Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.

As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

Continue Reading

Current Affairs

Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work




When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.

University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.

Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.

This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.

Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.

I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.

I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.

In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.

Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.

To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.

But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.

The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.

Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.

University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.

It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.

The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.

Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.

University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.

Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.

When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.

Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State

The Conversation

The Conversation

Continue Reading