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Integrated clean technology solutions can help solve water issues

There are a wide variety of socio-economic challenges affecting South Africa's urban infrastructure systems presently - electricity, water, sanitation, stormwater, solid waste and even transport. Water constraints are rapidly becoming the most pressing of these and are certainly one we all can't avoid. South Africa is arguably one of the few driest countries in the world that still flush down drinkable water - down the drain!
©Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer via 123RF
At this stage, we must conceive we all have a shared responsibility towards water conservation. The government can’t be left with the sole responsibility to respond to these challenges. Also, it certainly does not have the manpower to do so alone. Instead what is needed is an integrated approach to resolving these current challenges.

South Africa and Cape Town, in particular, finds itself in the worse drought in the past 100 years (with water levels in Cape Town being 9.7%), and conditions are predicted to worsen as we approach a drier and hotter climate in the coming few years. It is said Cape Town alone will need at least two seasons of strong rainfall to recover from the current drought.

The current water infrastructure systems are struggling to keep up with the rapid increases in water demand services driven by a combination of economic activities and society's living requirements as a whole (WWF, 2013). As a first, citizens can accept the shared responsibility by adopting sustainable practices by changing our behavioural patterns through using grey water to flush the toilet and for irrigation as practical examples.

On an urban infrastructure basis government, academia and the private sector can combine planning efforts through effective Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) which can be used in the creation of sustainable state-owned assets and services. Although there is a national PPP framework in place, one must also look making it easier to understand and National Treasury must give insight on how this can be used to fast track the country’s National Development Plan objectives.

Carefully considered PPPs can help ensure the following:

1. Minimise the financial burden on government as the risk is shared with the private partner. PPPs should seek to achieve optimum risk transfer between the public and private sectors and also to subsequently allocate risk within the private partner or consortium. These risks may be associated with the investment, design, construction or operation of an asset, such as a public building or civil engineering works, or the provision of services, such as waste or water management which typically require a significant capital investment.

2. In some cases, there is minimal capital layout by the government department. Therefore, in the case of PPPs, the project funding can be provided by the implementing partner(s) thereby ensuring cost effectiveness and time management efficiencies.

3. During the implementation of the project, government can enforce that the following objectives are met by the infrastructure project:

a. Local enterprise development by procuring from local suppliers and businesses;
b. Capacity building of government staff since the skill set is in the private sector.
c. Partnering with a research partner such a university or TVET college to ensure that the peer-to-peer learning efforts are transferred successfully. An example is the accreditation of training and capacity building efforts provided by the private sector partner.

Economic transformation in PPPs

These integrated clean technology projects can be used strategically to meet wider environmental and social goals such as carbon emission mitigation, promoting resource efficiency, creation of green jobs and promoting innovation in planned infrastructure programmes.

Well considered PPPs also presents government with a major opportunity to promote its economic transformation programmes, namely through the training and upskilling of young, unemployed HDSA professionals on technical skills such as energy and water auditing, green design methods, conditional assessments, and Measurement and Verification (M&V). These skills are in high demand in the local green building industry and can be exported to the rest of the continent.

Examples of successfully implemented PPPs include the Gautrain project, Renewable Energy Independent Power Purchase Programme (REI4P), Richards Bay Desalination plant, and Environment House (a resource efficient building which is owned by the Department of Environmental Affairs), to name a few. The common thread between these infrastructure projects is their combined response to the needs of society and the need to lower carbon emissions, and have resulted in green job creation. This is the essence what a green economy entails.

Risk mitigation though green PPPs

It should be noted that infrastructure PPPs alone will not deliver value for money for the public purse in the absence of rigorous contracts, comprehensive feasibility studies and good governance by all contracting partners. The public authority must always be in a position to rigorously assess whether the proposed PPP contract is bankable in light of the surrounding market conditions. Water PPPs can also be problematic as water is widely regarded as a human right and many people argue that it is a core function of government and should not be privatised. South Africa would have to thread carefully as some of these have been badly executed in other countries where PPPs were used to supply water to poorer areas and water costs escalated. However, there are varying types of PPPs and this model can be tailored to fit into the local context (Gauge, 2017).

The private sector can also deliver these projects more efficiently than the government as it was demonstrated by the REI4P and Gautrain projects. In most cases, the private partner effectively owns the asset until they hand it back to the state after the contract period. In this contract period, the state can ensure that certain performance measures are in place to ensure that socio-economic targets are met in the process (the ones highlighted earlier).

These emerging opportunities will be reviewed in line with present challenges facing public infrastructure at the upcoming GGC2017 engagement platform in September with key decision makers in the government sector, with a focus on the public building sector.

PPPs in green buildings

Our platform looks at specific opportunities across building services and maintenance units to introduce green technology solutions across the public facilities (education, healthcare, and offices). Buildings are one of the largest consumers of water across the board - commercial and government. As a matter of fact, without water, the operational activities of organisations cannot function normally and often lead to revenue losses. If we thought we had challenges with load shedding, the water crisis will introduce new challenges to the operating activities of businesses and government facilities alike.

The GGC2017 will create a platform where the government can assess their high resource (energy and water) consuming facilities and work with green building experts to identify suitable interventions for reducing consumption levels.

Innovative approaches to infrastructure service provision can assist in managing the costs of resource inputs and waste treatment, making services more affordable to government and the public in the longer term whilst contributing to a greener economy. The local green building industry is also matured to a point to address these challenges in ways that are in line with government budgets.

About the author

Songo Didiza, Executive Director, Green Building Design Group