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SA should tap into smart tech to tackle deepening water crisis

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 19 Jul 2023
Rudie Opperman, manager, engineering and training, MEA, at Axis Communications.
Rudie Opperman, manager, engineering and training, MEA, at Axis Communications.

South Africa is experiencing a water crisis and technology professionals urge authorities to consider smart network infrastructure as part of efforts to rejuvenate the utility sector.

The crisis has come under the spotlight after Rand Water recently warned Johannesburg residents to prepare for a 58-hour scheduled water shutdown beginning Tuesday 18 July until Friday 21 July.

The Department of Water and Sanitation’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan identified a water supply deficit of 17% by 2030. It cites insufficient water infrastructure maintenance and investment, climate change, and inequities in access to water and sanitation as among the reasons for the crisis.

According to the plan, over 3 million people still do not have access to basic water supply service and 14.1 million do not have access to safe sanitation. Only 64% of households have access to a reliable water supply service, while 44% of water treatment works are in a poor or critical condition.

South Africans also use 234 litres of water per person per day, which means the country’s per capita water consumption is higher than the global average of 173 litres. South Africa is already a water-scarce nation receiving insufficient and unreliable rainfall – the country receives an annual precipitation of 497mm/year, almost 50% less than the global average of 860mm/year.

Local media have reported that according to economists and scientists, R1-trillion is needed to recapitalise the country’s beleaguered water sector.

Smart edge technology

Technology solutions distributor Axis Communications believes smart edge devices like surveillance cameras and access control systems, used effectively in line with sensors can make a massive difference.

Rudie Opperman, manager, engineering and training, MEA, at Axis Communications, says sensors that measure water quality, water levels, flow rates, and maintenance schedules can automatically report data and provide valuable insights to decision-makers by comparing trends.  

"To protect these facilities and infrastructures from unauthorised access and potential vandalism, artificial intelligence can be employed. AI-powered intrusion systems can use thermal sensors, radar sensors, and even conventional optical cameras.”

Opperman says the use case for these technologies within water and sanitation management is clear: in controlled facilities, one can detect when authorised personnel neglect scheduled tasks or when unauthorised individuals attempt to access restricted areas; system malfunctions and anomalies can be monitored and flagged, providing critical information for decision-making. 

He adds, “Water treatment and distribution, infrastructure maintenance, and process management are essential. Neglect and mismanagement should be measured and clearly visible and comparisons should be easily possible between different facilities over time. Unwanted security breaches or vandalism should be quickly detected and deterred."

The water crisis is complex,  but by taking small steps and embracing smart technology, we can make a positive impact, concludes Opperman.