Feature Stories

Working Together to Respond to a Drought: Sembcorp Siza Water, South Africa

 

As a result of El Niño, South Africa is facing one of its worst droughts in 30 years. The drought, which began in late 2014, has been declared a crisis by the government. Amongst the worst-hit areas in the country is the Dolphin Coast, where our municipal water business Sembcorp Siza Water operates.

As the local water provider, Sembcorp Siza Water has played a key role in managing the impact of the drought from an early stage. When the drought hit, it became apparent that it would be impossible for the conventional water system to be fully operational. Sembcorp Siza Water worked out a drought plan with local authorities and the bulk water supplier, and rolled this out to the community through an intensive communications campaign. Through daily slots on local radio, regular updates in newspapers and on the company website, as well as flyers and text message alerts, we educated consumers on the crisis, called for support for the drought plan and communicated tips on how to save water. We also met key stakeholders face-to-face, including local councillors and authorities, as well as the ratepayers' association, chamber of commerce and local business leaders, and held media interviews and briefings. The response to these measures led to the community reducing its water usage by 5,000 cubic metres per day.

In the course of engaging consumers and local councillors, the need to find innovative solutions to the water crisis was raised. Arising from this, we commissioned boreholes to augment water supply. In addition, we conducted a month-long online survey, during which 96% of consumers voted in favour of introducing recycled water to their potable water. We then completed KwaZulu Natal’s first water recycling plant, a facility that reclaims potable water from effluent, increasing the water supply by 4,000 cubic metres. This has been a great success, eliminating the need for water shedding in the community.

This experience demonstrates that technical expertise is only part of the solution. To change public behaviour and generate sustainable solutions, engagement and partnership with stakeholders is also key.

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