Purifying seawater could answer SA’s water challenges


With South Africa facing the risk of over-exploiting traditional water supply, purifying seawater from the country’s 2 500km coastline and surrounding oceans, could still be a viable option despite the high costs involved in such processes.


Five young engineers who recently returned from a working visit to Japan believe sea water could supplement the country’s dwindling water supply. The engineers drawn from municipalities across the country had the opportunity to visit Japan last November, as part of a scholarship funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Hitachi Ltd.


The recipients include, Lanchon Goliath (City of Cape Town municipality), Bandile Gqweta (Amathole District Municipality), Hope Joseph (EThekwini Municipality), Lehlohonolo Maneli (Ekurhuleni Municipality) and Keboihile Molatudi (Umgeni Water)


The scholarship is a learning programme launched in 2005 to provide advanced on-the-job training to young South African engineers in support of the country’s social infrastructure development initiatives.


It’s estimated that desalinated water cost about three times that of surface water and the process requires large amounts of energy, which could put more pressure on the country’s electricity supply. 


Bandile Gqweta from the Amathole district municipality says the country needs to  reduce its dependence on traditional water sources. “Without desalination the country will always rely on rain for water and this will have exploited traditional water. We need to live in a country that doesn’t run short of water.”


The young engineers visited a number of facilities in Japan and the City of Cape Town’s Lanchon Goliath noted that Japan had realized desalination as effective in relieving water supplies. He was impressed by the Hitachi Remix Water System, which combines seawater and sewage water to provide high quality industrial re-use.


“Japan like South Africa once faced severe drought which forced the city to restrict water supply for 287 days. The government was then forced to establish water conservation plans. Various reclamation plans were installed across the country to reduce overall usage of potable water such as flushing toilets,” said Goliath


Senior engineer at EThekwini municipality, Hope Joseph said that Japan was successful in conserving and preserving its water supply because the citizens had become disciplined in its use of this precious resource.


Ms Joseph urged South Africans to respect water and government infrastructure. “We need to teach our nation from an early age to respect water and that without a drop of water we are a dead nation. Water is the basic ingredient of life and should be conserved. We can survive for eight to ten days without food but we can only survive for two days without water”.


“Japan educates children from a young age on the importance of water and water hygiene in their daily life, so that they can lead a healthy life and water resources can be handed down to future generations.”


DST’s acting Chief Director of Sector Innovation and Green Economy, Dr Henry Roman lauded the partnership saying that it was boosting the capacity of municipalities in the country.


“This programme is strategically unique in that it is an international public-private-partnership that is adding value to the country’s human capital development. I would like to thank Hitachi for the continued commitment and investment to the scholarship and its prioritisation of sectors and sectoral interventions which are critical to DST’s strategic agenda,” said Dr Henry.


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