This week, the results of study conducted by the Institute for Strategic Studies revealed that by 2020, South Africa would be facing extreme water shortages as demand outstripped supply - in spite of interventions that were currently underway by the private and public sectors.
Not surprisingly, the report found that the largest users of water remained the manufacturing, energy and agricultural sectors, but the most worrying finding related to the fact that a large part of the problem lies with the rise in GDP and higher income levels of consumers! Yup, while awareness of water and it's scarcity is high in this country, growing disposable income levels are resulting in less people actually saving water because they 'can afford it'.
Irrespective of how high we build dam walls or what measures are taken to encourage consumers to reduce and conserve this precious resource, it is our attitude to affordability that determines the degree to which we make change happen. For as long as we can afford it - or as many believe, we have a right to use the resource as we wish!
Not only is this tragically short-sighted, but it perhaps underlines the fact that water is still one of the least appreciated resources we have, and like everything else in life, it simply reflects a long-held notion that if it doesn't cost much, it must be plentiful (or it's not that valuable). Think about it. When last did you stop and question your water account? When last did you see a direct correlation between cost and consumption? Or. as many of us do, do you simply pay your water and lights accounts grudgingly while muttering about the failure of government to provide adequate services.
A recent poll of almost 200 hotels in South Africa revealed that a shocking 82% had no strategy to reduce consumption or to develop alternate, sustainable water management planning. That is a staggering amount and it paints a very poor picture of the commitment being made across a region that is buckling under the worst drought in the past decade. But if that was not bad enough, 62% indicated that the increased cost of water was being passed-across to their clients in the form of rate increases, and that reflects the findings of the ISS report insofar as affordability and conservation appear to be linked.
When probed, almost 70% of respondents failed to link water conservation with energy consumption, waste management or the use of chemicals and cleaning products, but almost all glibly committed themselves to being 'green'. What is the problem you might ask. The problem is that if this is taken as only a sample of the hospitality industry's view of water consumption, we are in for a very long, dry and increasingly difficult future as a country.
We can't afford to disregard this report of the findings because unless we make real progress in appreciating the need to conserve and protect our water reserves, we will be unable to run our businesses in the next ten years. We will be unable to provide clean, safe and adequate drinking and washing water for our guests; to provide food or drinks to visitors or to ensure that our lights stay on during their stay, and that affects our ability as an industry to compete against destinations that understand the problem.
While industry bodies such as FEDHASA and others - and local authorities in Cape Town and other metro's, are making great efforts to raise awareness and commitment by the hospitality sector, the attitude of each hotelier, restaurateur and member of the community will ultimately need to change. Perhaps its time to get their attention in the most proven and successful manner - raise the price of water to reflect the importance that it plays in our lives, and perhaps we will experience that 'mind-shift' we so desperately need.