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Water Sector Summary

South Africa is a relatively water scarce country with an uneven distribution of rainfall and runoff across the country. Water is a key natural resource, as it supports many other sectors (e.g. agriculture and health), and is vital in sustaining livelihoods and driving development. 

Climate Change impacts on the Water Sector

It is predicted that the effects of climate change in South Africa will be felt mainly through its impact on the Water Sector. Climate change impacts such as increasingly variable rainfall and higher temperatures will pose numerous risks to the South African Water Sector and will further exacerbate existing challenges (e.g. droughts, floods and decreasing water quality). These impacts are likely to be felt across multiple sectors due to the cross-cutting nature of water, and linkages with other sectors such as health, agriculture, biodiversity and human settlements.
The South African Long Term Adaptation Scenarios (LTAS) report highlights these potential climate change impacts: 
  1. Higher evaporation rates will result in the decreased quality of drinking water.
  2. Periods of drought may result in decreased water quality due to increased effluent and salt concentrations. This will pose a risk to ecosystem health and human water uses.
  3. Increased rainfall intensities, flash floods and regional flooding, in some areas, due to rainfall variability, resulting in litter and debris blocking water and sanitation systems exacerbating these challenges. This will have human and environmental health impacts.
  4. Decreased water availability, in some areas, due to rainfall variability and increased periods of drought.
  5. Reduced oxygen concentrations and higher water temperatures may impact aquatic species.

Vulnerability Assessment in the Water Sector

Climate Change Vulnerability is assessed by identifying a set of climate change indicators or impacts and then assessing your exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity to these indicators. The following sections provide a summary on how to conduct this assessment specifically for the Water Sector.

Step 1: Develop Climate Change Indicators 

The first step in a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment is to develop a set of indicators. Indicators are a list of potential impacts that may take place in your area as a result of climate change. The LGCCS Vulnerability Assessment Toolkit has developed a draft range of indicators using the Long Term Adaptation Scenario Reports. The indicators have been grouped into sectors. This page deals specifically with the Water Sector and the list of indicators are provided in the tables below.

Step 2: Assess your Exposure to the Indicators 

The second step of a vulnerability assessment is to determine whether a particular indicator is relevant. This is termed "Exposure". Exposure is whether or not a particular impact will take place in your area.

The table below lists various indicators and links to materials to determine whether you are potentially at risk (exposed) to the impact. This is generally a "Yes/No" question.


Record your answers here and make note of any of the indicators above that you scored "Yes" to.

Step 3: Assess your Sensitivity to the Indicators

The third step of the vulnerability assessment asks the question, "if you are exposed, how important is the potential impact?" This is termed "sensitivity" and is generally assessed by a scale (e.g 1 to 5 or High, Medium, Low). For the purpose of the LGCCS Vulnerability Assessment Toolkit the Sensitivity Questions have been graded as High, Medium, Low.

The table below lists the same indicators as above but provides a column called "Sensitivity Considerations" to help assess how sensitive you are to particular impacts.

Record your answers here and make a note of any of the indicators above that you scored "Medium or High" to.

Step 4: Assess your Adaptive Capacity to the Indicators

The forth step in the vulnerability assessment asks the question: "If there are going to be significant impacts due to climate change, do you have the systems (policy, resources, social capital) to respond to the change?". The IPCC defines Adaptive Capacity as the "ability of a system to adjust to climate change to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences".

For the purpose of the LGCCS Vulnerability Assessment Toolkit the Adaptive Capacity Questions have been graded as High, Medium, Low.

The table below lists the same indicators as above but provides a column called "Adaptive Capacity Question" which is "Do you have high, medium or low adaptive capacity (policy, institutional, social and finance) to respond to the change?".

Record your answers here and make a note of any of the indicators above that you scored "Low or Medium" to.

Step 5: Develop Response Plans for Priority Indicators

Once you have completed the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity assessments, short-list the indicators that you have the following answers for:

  • Exposure - Yes 
  • Sensitivity - High or Medium 
  • Adaptive Capacity - Low or Medium 

These short-listed indicators are the indicators that you are most vulnerable to. You will now need to develop a response plan to deal with these vulnerabilities. The LGCCS Vulnerability Assessment Toolkit includes generic responses plan for each sector (here). You can use these templates as a starting point for developing your own sector response plan.

Key Responses to Climate Change in the Water Sector

Due to its importance in supporting other critical sectors, such as agriculture and health, water should be prioritised in national climate change adaptation efforts and policies and responses cascaded down to the municipal level.

Role of National Departments

The Department of Water and Sanitation is a key role-player in ensuring that climate change vulnerabilities are identified in the water sector and that guidance and resources are provided in responding to these impacts. The Department of Water and Sanitation is currently developing a climate change strategy for South Africa’s water resources. The strategy will be based on key priorities identified in the National Water Resource Strategy 2. These strategies align with the Water Services Act of 1997 and National Water Act (NWA) of 1998, providing a framework for sustainable water resource management while enabling improved and broadened service delivery. 

Water and sanitation services are a key municipal competency, however capacity and resources to effectively manage these systems are often limited at the municipal level. Within this context, recommended local municipal responses to decrease the climate change impacts on the Water Sector could therefore focus on the following:

Role of Councillors

  • Spearhead water conservation and demand management efforts within the municipality, with a strong focus on community awareness raising. 
  • Ensure water related climate change risks are considered during the integrated development plan (IDP) review and associated project planning processes. 
  • Support municipal budget allocation to climate change related interventions. 

Role of Municipal Administration

  • Review existing policies and include enabling flexible sector plans and frameworks. 
  • Consider flexible and robust water infrastructure during planning processes. 
  • Maintain and restore ecological infrastructure in existing vulnerable systems (such as wetlands, river corridors and coastlines). 
  • Promote the development of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). 
  • Build strong institutional oversight to ensure that water-related institutions build adaptive management capacity. 
  • Strengthen effective information management and monitoring and evaluation systems. 
  • Investigate sustainable and locally accessible financial management in the sector. 
  • Play a lead in raising public awareness about identified risks, through various programmes aimed at assisting citizens in building sustainable and resilient communities. 

Role of Individuals

  • Work together with the municipality in finding solutions for identified risks in the municipality. 
  • Be “water wise” and play an active role in water conservation and demand management practices, such as limiting water consumption and reporting water leaks to the municipality. 
  • Consider establishing household rainwater harvesting systems. 
  • Consider the use of greywater or harvested rainwater to support secondary water uses such as cleaning, watering the garden. 
  • Avoid littering into or near natural water sources, such as streams and rivers. 
  • Take initiative and report the polluting of streams, rivers and other ecosystems. 

Responses per Indicator

References Material

Use the following reference material to help assess your vulnerability to the criteria listed above: