Councillor Zandile Myeni, opened a conference held on Thursday 8th June at the Elangeni Hotel to discuss water solutions for South Africa. She described the city’s collaboration with the Dutch government as inspiring as the Netherlands has a proud history of water management. Councillor Myeni said that water was extremely important for public health and that, although the eThekwini municipality had made progress in facilitating water access for poor communities, it still faced challenges. Some of the challenges included ageing infrastructure and the need for future investment. She welcomed further collaboration with the Dutch government, pointing out that there were many opportunities to co-create solutions.
The event was hosted by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and was entitled #cocreateMYCITY.
Addressing more than 140 delegates from both the public and private sectors, the Ambassador from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr Han Peters, spoke about how his country was experiencing water shortages for the first time in its history due to drought and had much to learn from South Africa which was traditionally a water scarce country.
“I am very impressed by the fact that we have brought together stakeholders in water management from both South Africa and the Netherlands, from the public and private sectors. There has been a lot of enthusiasm and creativity which makes me hopeful for the future,” he said.
Turning to the South Durban Basin, spokesperson for the eThekwini Municipality, Dr Andrew Mather, said the events of April 2022 when extreme rainfall and the silting of the Shongweni Dam created a surge in the Umlaas River which saw water breech the berms of the canal and flow down the highway into industrial and residential areas, submerging vast areas.
Although this was a once-in-200-year occurrence, delegates agreed that severe climate change was now a reality and that, to prevent further devastation, urgent measures were needed to decrease future flood risks. Mather said that the municipality was looking at the construction of a new culvert to help divert and control overflows, building new diversion berms and deepening existing ones as well as upstream attenuation which included deepening the Shongweni Dam. It said it was in discussion with key stakeholders.
However, feedback from residents, which included motor manufacturer Toyota South Africa and paper and pulp manufacturer Mondi who were severely impacted at the time, emphasised the need for still greater collaboration and the inclusion of insurers, academics and communities who were victims of the flooding, when considering solutions for this vulnerable industrial hub.
Delegates also called for an early warning system that would warn residents and emergency services of the threat of natural disasters throughout the province.
Tjeerd Driessen from Dutch consulting company, RoyalHaskoningDHV, shared learnings from how the port of Rotterdam, which was particularly flood prone, had dealt with increased risks in an industrial area that contributes 6% of the Dutch GDP. He illustrated how flooding had impacted the operations of companies and how different stakeholders had collaborated to implement necessary solutions.
Lively discussion during the debate over the circular economy saw delegates discuss current gaps and barriers to accelerating the circular economy with emphasis on recycling, water recovery, desalination the re-use of water and educating water users.
Additional challenges highlighted included the implementation of onerous procurement policies at local government level which prevented swift action to maintain or repair key infrastructure and the problem of budgetary shortfalls and the funding of key water projects.
Prepared for the Kingdom of the Netherlands
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