The Potential for Water Conservation in Southern Africa

Saturday, January 1, 2000

Executive Summary

Water conservation and demand management (WC/DM) holds tremendous potential to help the region to meet its water needs. Urban and agricultural water use in southern Africa is highly inefficient. In South Africa, for example, it is estimated that nearly half of urban water is wasted through water loss or inefficiency. Similarly, irrigation in Southern Africa, which represents 69 percent of total consumption, is estimated to be less than 50 percent efficient. If irrigation practices could be made only 10 percent more efficient across the region, 2.5 billion cubic meters would be saved each year. If urban water use across the region could be made only 10 percent more efficient, more than 600 million cubic meters would be saved each year. Together these savings would provide enough water to supply every person in the region who is currently unserved by water services with more than 100 litres per day. Clearly, effective implementation of water conservation and demand management practices could go a long way toward solving the region’s water troubles.

Very few WC/DM measures have been implemented in southern Africa to date. Research conducted for this report suggests that fewer than one–third of the 40 million urban water users who are served by developed supply systems are encouraged to use water efficiently by any measure other than escalating block tariffs. Although this economic tool can be effective, without other components of a comprehensive WC/DM campaign such as public education it will have little effect. In the agricultural sector, nearly half of all irrigated land is watered by highly inefficient flood irrigation methods, while more efficient methods such as micro jet and drip irrigation are applied on less than 10 percent of irrigated farmland. See Table 1 below for summary of the status of WC/DM implementation in certain southern African countries.

Table 1. Status of WC/DM Planning and Implementation in Selected SADC Countries

Country Policy/Legislation National Strategy or Programme Applied in Urban Sector Applied in Agric. Sector Angola No/No No No Extremely limited. Botswana Developing Policy/ Legislation to follow. Gov't reviewing 05/99 Draft Strategy. Escalating tariffs, leak detection. Extremely limited. Lesotho Yes/In progress Strategy adopted 06/99 Escalating tariffs only. Extremely limited. Malawi Revising Policy/ Legislation to follow. National program to follow revised Water Act Escalating tariffs only. Extremely limited. Mozambique Yes/No No Escalating tariffs only. Extremely limited. Namibia Yes/In progress In development. Comprehensive in Windhoek Limited. Swaziland


Water Bill ‘98 not yet enacted. No. ‘98 Water Bill will est. Water Auth to devel. Water Master Plan. Escalating tariffs only. Extremely limited. South Africa Yes/Yes National strategy in development. Urban providers developing programs. Full program in Hermanus; limited in Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. Limited application. Research ongoing, few projects ongoing, eg Blyde River Irrig. Zimbabwe Yes/No Strategy Policy developed. Escalating tariffs only in Harare; new program in Bulawayo. Extremely limited.

In the past WC/DM initiatives have been considered only as strategies associated with environmental or drought response which often led to inefficient water supply planning. The key challenge for the WC/DM approach is its integration into the water resource planning process.


  • Southern Africa faces a serious water supply challenge driven by scarce and unevenly distributed water resources, rapid population growth and urbanisation, and imperatives of development and social equity.
  • Water use in the urban and agricultural sectors is generally highly inefficient, with waste/inefficiencies of up to 50 percent and 60 percent respectively.
  • Although the policy and legal framework for implementing WC/DM has been established in many southern African countries, very few measures have been put in place.
  • Fewer than one–third of all urban water users are encouraged to conserve water by any measure other than escalating block tariffs, and only two cities in the entire region have implemented comprehensive WC/DM programmes (the population of these two cities represents less than one percent of the regional urban population).
  • Flood irrigation, which achieves only 55 percent efficiency, is used on more than half of all irrigated land in the region.
  • An increase in efficiency of only 20 percent in urban and agricultural water use would save 9000 million m3 each year – more than the combined use of Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and more than 10 times the combined yield of Katse and Mohale dams of the LHWP.
  • Water "produced" through WC/DM can be 65 to 80 percent less expensive than water developed through new infrastructure.
  • Water providers in Gauteng could delay the construction of the next water supply dam by 12 years through an effective WC/DM programme, and save R2 billion/US$325 million each year.


  • WC/DM principles should be integrated fully into water supply planning, i.e., water potentially produced through increased efficiency and decreased losses should be considered along side other options at the beginning of supply planning processes.
  • Water management entities should establish specific targets/standards for water use efficiency and allowable loss for each water sector and develop strategies to achieve those targets.
  • Mechanisms for financing WC/DM approaches should be developed, including traditional methods enjoyed by the dam building industry as well as new innovative mechanisms.

Submitted by:

The Environmental Monitoring Group
Environmental Monitoring Group
South Africa

Group for Environmental Monitoring
South Africa

International Rivers