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According to the World Bank, more than 663 million people are living without a freshwater supply close to their home. This means they spend hours queueing for access to distant sources and have to cope with the health impacts of using contaminated water. Although Vodacom has a low water footprint, we are conscious of the fact that we operate in a region that is water scarce and vulnerable to climate change impacts. In fact, South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world. Less than half (46.4%) of South African households are estimated to have water piped into their homes, only 26.8% have access to water on their property and 13.3% need to share a communal tap. The country has been experiencing serious drought since 2015, with associated crop losses, water restrictions, and impacts on food and water security.
At Vodacom, we are aware of these water scarcity risks and have taken measures to protect life’s most precious resource. We have invested in various water-wise practices and initiatives to reduce our water consumption over the years, such as replacing conventional sanitary fittings with water-saving technology, rainwater and greywater harvesting, reinstating existing boreholes, installing smart water meters to easily detect leakages and planting water-wise indigenous plants.
Our water-saving efforts have been extended to partnerships with the government implementing the following initiatives:
- In response to the water shortages experienced in the Western and Eastern Cape in 2018, the Vodacom Foundation spent R6 million on alleviating water shortages in schools. A total number of 1,651,595 litres of bottled water were delivered to more than 90 Vodacom-supported schools in the two provinces.
- In the Western Cape, we have also worked closely with the City of Cape Town to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) water dispenser for communities in anticipation of day zero as a result of the drought experienced in that province.
- We have partnered with the Water Research Council to send water-saving SMS notifications encouraging responsible water use and promoting water-saving to over 6 million customers in the Western and Eastern Cape regions.
- The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that 37% of the water in our urban-piped water system leaks and that this is a third of the country’s water, going down the drain – literally. Therefore, Vodacom provides Smart Utilities Management Service (SUMS) through IoT that helps municipalities to monitor and manage water leakages. The IoT technology helps in the early detection of water systems, enabling municipalities to fix these leakages in an effective and timely manner.
In addition, on 2 October 2019 Johannesburg Water, the City of Johannesburg’s water utility, made an announcement, urging residents to adhere to the level-1 water restrictions as result of the planned shutdown of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) tunnel system for inspection and maintenance from 1 October 2019 until 30 November 2019. The shutdown by the Department of Water and Sanitation was gazetted on 13 September 2019 and all Gauteng water users are expected to use water responsibly as no water transfers to the Vaal River System will be possible during the shutdown. This is because the tunnel will be drained for the inspection and maintenance. Amid this water crisis in our country, Vodacom encourages all staff and communities to adopt water-wise practices, such as:
- Do not leave taps dripping.
- Inform maintenance, administrators or the municipality if you notice any burst pipes or leakages.
- Wash your car on your lawn – this will water the grass at the same time.
- Avoid using running water to thaw frozen food.
- Ensure that all faucets are properly shut after use.
- Schedule your laundry day (allow your clothes to accumulate before washing them).
- Do not let the water run freely while washing the dishes.
- Shorten your showering time.
- Use a glass of water to rinse, when brushing your teeth.
- Take shallow baths.
- Reuse greywater to water your garden or pot plants.
Our response to water challenges in the country is aligned with our support of Goal Six: Clean Water and Sanitation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which focuses on the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Written by Lungile Manzini, Executive Head of Sustainability at Vodacom