Unilever encourages partnerships for improved water management

National Water Week

The Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, recently launched South Africa’s National Water Week, running from the 16th to the 22nd of March 2015, concluding on World Water Day. National Water Week was launched in the drought-ridden KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal, with the theme ‘Water Has No Substitute’.

According to the Department of Water and Sanitation,National Water Week is an awareness campaign, serving to re-iterate the value of water, the need for sustainable management of this scarce resource and the role water plays in eradicating poverty and under-development in South Africa. The campaign seeks to continue building on the ongoing awareness creation within the broader South African community. While government plays its part in effective water management, it is hoped that every citizen is made aware of their responsibilities in ensuring the integrity and efficient use of South Africa’s water resources.

As a country, government, organisations and individuals alike must begin to recognise the power of unity. If more collaboration is achieved, successful water management will be the inevitable outcome. As such, Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) entail the funding and operation of government services or private business ventures through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies.

An example of such a partnership is the Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality, Rhodes University and partner universities’ involvement with the Sundays River Valley Municipality, the Sundays River Valley Water User Association, Amatola Water and community members to identify new ways to address difficult water issues in the area. As a result of the partnership, investment is being made into the development of a rich understanding of the valley – its people, its natural resource and the processes that link them.

The research conducted in the Sundays River Valley area has led to the development of a novel approach to water issues, which could benefit South Africa as a whole. The basis of this method is recognising the connectedness between all elements of the water cycle and people’s use of water.

Everyone lives in a catchment; the rain falls, seeps into the ground, feeds streams and rivers, is stored in dams and is piped to people. People use the water to live and to drive the economy. In using water, waste is produced; some of which is returned to the streams and rivers. Water is transpired by plants and evaporates, and the rain falls again. This is the water cycle.

In order to be successful, the management of various elements must be achieved in unison, while regulating the interaction between people and the water cycle. This is referred to as integrated water resource management (IWRM). For example: catchment management requires a ‘source to tap to source’ approach, focusing on the large-scale landscape process; water service delivery focuses on water treatment and piping safe drinking water to people; water-borne sanitation is concerned with providing sewerage pipes and infrastructure to homes, treating human waste and limiting microbial pollution that causes illnesses.

Due to this intricacy, IWRM is incredibly difficult to manage. Government alone cannot be expected to execute this task as it entails so many interacting facets. To date, the group has built dams to supply water through dry seasons and droughts, as well as pipes, taps and treatment plants to make water safe to drink and to manage waste more effectively. While these actions have largely been sufficient, many parts of the whole water system remain strained. Feedback between parts of the system results in one process affecting another in an unpredictable manner.

When applying the suggested approach to water management, some basic premises may aid in achieving success. Remember that people are embedded in, and interact with, the natural water cycle; pay attention to people’s processes. To be effective the whole system should be taken into account. Systems are continuous through time, the elements or parts of the system work in relationship with each other and affect each other. 

Much varying knowledge is required to engage effectively from within these systems, therefore science and social science must be applied together. Governance is essential to ensure ethical management in order to achieve fairness, sustainability and efficiency. Learning, especially social learning, is a driver of change and transformation. Pragmatism and adaptability will foster success.

In practice, the new ways of managing water require renewed approaches to thinking, understanding, deciding and acting.The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, launched in November 2010, is an industry–based example of taking on a systemic view, having a vision, and taking and encouraging clear actions towards the vision.

In terms of thinking, many connected parts and feedback processes exist in a complex problem. To facilitate thinking, it is essential to build a systemic picture of the problem, deciding what should be monitored so that unexpected outcomes are noticed. In addressing this problem, a determination must be made regarding trusted advisors, depending on their level of knowledge, while a space much be created where this knowledge can be shared fairly and confidently.

In understanding, the reality is that there are no quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Determining which inclusive processes are most likely to identify and address the most intractable aspects of the problem is crucial. It must be noted that the deepening of democracy through real consultation takes investment of time and money; this must be considered in budget planning.

When deciding, considered, courageous decisions are much better than no decision at all. It is essential that barriers to effective decision making are identified and eradicated. Inside a strategic adaptive management system (SAM), making decisions is less daunting due to the option to reconsider and adapt; take the time to learn about SAM and apply the principles.

In terms of acting, the previous steps will have no effect if the decision is not followed by action. Identifying and overcoming the obstacles to action will ensure that decisions come to life. However, it is important to act in terms of a principled vision, wisely consider the consequences and adjust decisions and actions where necessary.

If PPPs are formed, focus on IWRM and function within the boundaries of thinking, understanding, deciding and acting, truly sustainable water management can be achieved, to the benefit of all.

For media queries only, contact:

Barry Dijoe External and Media Relations Manager

031 570 247 or 072 633 7248

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