World Water Day: Making every drop count in SA

2016-03-22 09:22 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - South Africa has been experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drier- than-average weather, with 2016/17 season being forecast as the worst.

But as the world celebrates World Water Day on 22 March, focusing on sustainable management of freshwater resources, now more than ever the spotlight is on large consumers of water, especially within the hospitality and tourism industry.

WATCH: Most chilling facts from #WorldWaterDay

Across the country, heavy rains in drought-hit areas have resulted in flash as well as localised floods and although some rain has fallen the current drought in South Africa is still severe, and continues to affect the five SA provinces declared disaster areas, earlier in January.

While one area cracks under the dryness, another is resorting to desperate measures to avoid flood damage as is the case with the breach forcing thousands of litres of fresh water out to sea instead of flowing through the St Lucia Estuary in the drought-hit iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

SEE - PICS Lake St Lucia forcibly choked as drought grips iSimangaliso

The most serious impact, other than dwindling water supplies, is the effect on staple crops and, ultimately, commercial crops, says the South African Weather Service.

"In 1992/1993, undoubtedly one of the most widespread droughts of the last 45 years, maize had to be imported to South Africa. The knock-on effect of crop failure could be seen in the population drift from rural areas into the cities, farm labour lay-offs and farm closures as well as an increasing indebtedness in the agricultural sector.

In a bid to relieve some of these drought conditions, Operation Hydrate has distributed about four million litres of water so far across South Africa. In one week at the height of heatwaves and the worst effects of the drought in January, it managed to set up formal water distribution structures through local authorities and community organisations across SA.

To provide an idea of hotel water consumption FEDHASA reports that the Westin Hotel in Cape Town, which is part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, estimates their average water usage per month in 2015 as 4.5 million litres at 65% occupancy, a figure which amounts to over 56 000 bathtubs of water monthly.

The group also launched a global strategy in 2009 called 30/20 by 20, which aims to use innovative technology and techniques such as smart irrigation and flow trackers to cut energy use by 30% and water use by 20% by 2020 across all hotels globally. 

As part of this strategy on the local front, the hotel has also introduced the ‘Make a Green Choice” programme, which incentivises guests to conserve water by way of declining housekeeping services in exchange for R85 off their next restaurant bill, or earn points that are then donated to UNICEF’s environmental work for children. 

“One night without housekeeping can save up to 185, 485 litres of water; this is enough for one person to drink two glasses of water a day for a year,” says Rob Kucera, Westin Executive Manager and Chairperson of FEDHASA Cape. 

Since the launch of Starwood’s 30/20 by 20 in 2009, there has been a 17% reduction in water usage with equates to 116 million bathtubs of water.

In another initiative to go Carbon Neutral Table Mountain has been championing its Kuyasa Housing Project, a low-carbon initiative in Khayelitsha who, since 2014, has installed 110 litre solar water heaters, ceilings and compact fluorescent energy efficient light bulbs in 2 100 houses.

At 1.66kg per visitor, Cableway’s carbon emissions are made up of electricity, gas, fuel consumption, waste and water. Water consumption has been reduced by 5% per visitor since 2014.

"This achievement is predominantly due to increased staff awareness. By educating their green team about the environment, the Cableway gets the water saving message across to visitors," says Cableway’s Marketing Manager Collette van Aswegen.

“Water is a precious resource so sustainable management is something that needs to be at the forefront of people’s thinking,” says Van Aswegen. 

Further measures to reduce water usage include the use of compostable plates in the food and beverage facilities, and replacing all tap heads in the toilet facilities with more water-efficient push taps. This year the Cableway will also investigate the possibility of harvesting rainwater for the Cableway facilities.

Take a look at this infographic that puts it into perspective.

Low-cost carrier Mango, along with many other proudly South African companies, joined forces with Operation Hydrate to get water to some of the country’s most affected communities, with donating about R500 000 for water distribution.

“South Africans have always rolled up their sleeves with immense resolve,” says Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout, “and this initiative, created entirely through a critical mass on social media, prompted action. 

“While we can still turn on the tap and have running water in the cities, thousands of people and farmers and their animals are not afforded the same privilege. We call on every South African and every company to make a difference. Time is not on our side on this one.”

“As one of South Africa’s busiest attractions, the Cableway needs to maintain high standards of responsible tourism operations. Through our efforts we hope to reiterate the value of water with the public and other attractions,” says Van Aswegen. 

“Some say water is the new oil. Water is not only an environmental consideration, but also a potential business risk that impacts guests, properties and the communities where we operate,” said Ken Siegel, Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel and Head of Global Citizenship at Starwood.

“South African businesses have a responsibility to do what they can in the drive to conserve water.  Further to the Westin Hotel in Cape Town, other FEDHASA members continue to put water and energy saving programmes in place, and what’s really motivating is to see how eager the public are to comply and help where possible,” says Kucera. 

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What to read next on Traveller24:

- SA's greenest municipalities

25 Facts about water that might just blow your mind 

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