The Fluid Future of Water Self-Reliance in South Africa


When it comes to being partially self-reliant for water supply, South African citizens are no strangers. Water self-reliance is vital, and from JoJo tanks to generators, we are veterans of small-scale self-sustaining intervention. 

mannie ramos

Mannie Ramos Jnr, COO of Abeco, a pioneer in water storage solutions and a champion of water as the most important currency in Africa, says “With an estimated 61% of total freshwater going to agriculture followed by 27% going to municipal and domestic use, we must begin to see self-reliant water practices implemented on a larger scale considering both could be run largely off of non-potable water sources.”


With South Africa ranked as the 30th driest country in the world it is no longer a question of being able to rely blindly on governments to supply our agricultural water. The great news is that there are no longer any technological boundaries to achieving at least partial self-sustainability.

Agriculture should be held accountable for looking into how to recycle their wastewater on-site. Technologies such as solar desalination are extremely promising. Essentially, using a heated pipeline, a solar still is powered that desalinates the water by distilling it. The water becomes steam, purifying it from minerals and once it returns to its liquid state it is ready for use as clean water.  The technology can also be used to treat runoff, groundwater and even industrial process water and is estimated to be able to make 295 kilolitres per day from water that would be rushing down the drain.

“Storing water in water banks for continuity is important for livestock farmers where a great deal of processing is also done on-site,” says Ramos. “Water security for chickens, especially laying hens, is vital as they are highly susceptible to any form of disturbance and can stop laying for up to two weeks because of a single disruptive incident in the water supply.” 

Earlier in 2021, Abeco installed a whopping 5.8 million litre tank together with a 3 million litre supplementary tank to South Africa’s largest poultry producers to store water, and protect their livestock and continuity of income when the next drought hits. Water self-reliance here is key.

Although agricultural practices in South Africa are not what they could be – more shocking is that 45% of the available food supply grown with all our precious water ends up as waste. Just as we saw how public education on the carbon footprint of our food influences consumption patterns, we must educate consumers on the water footprint of the food they buy.

A large part of becoming a water sensitive civilization is understanding that the products we consume have a water cost, and making better buying decisions. The clothing industry, for example, has outsourced much of its water-heavy manufacturing processes to countries where no legislation exists to protect the water supply from dyes and other chemicals. By supporting companies such as Nike and Adidas who have eliminated the water from their manufacturing processyou can actively partake in ethical purchasing practices.

Property Development

Ramos adds, “When building new eco-estates or renovating large sites, water systems should be as closed-circuited as possible to work long term. This means that any water collected and used on the property should make its way through various systems to enrich life on-site and produce as little waste as possible.” 

When developing new properties and eco estates, developers should be looking at connecting each property (or block of properties) to closed-circuit non-potable water storage tanks. This can provide water for most residential uses such as showers, laundry, toilets, hose pipes and all other non-potable sources of water. These systems can then be connected to grey and black water systems for irrigation of the estate’s landscaping and non-residential water needs.

It is also essential to build with this sustainability in mind as when these considerations are made from the beginning, the additional cost can be recouped relatively quickly. Unfortunately, when developers attempt to avoid investment in self-sustaining systems and have to upgrade during droughts the expense can easily become overwhelming. And while interventions such as low flow toilets and tap aerators are a start – they are simply not enough on their own.

As a developer, investing in being self-sustaining also helps manage your risk as you can guarantee future residents water continuity and charge accordingly, as you are not tapping into an unsustainable public water infrastructure. For example, any new office block being built can install only low flow toilets and sinks that connect to a greywater system. Any non-potable water can be drawn from large scale storage tanks on-site set to be filled by rainwater and topped up by the municipal grid if necessary. Introducing aspects of water self-reliance is an investment in the future.

The water technology out there is mind-blowing. From the incredible efficiency of the desalination plants in Israel to large scale water tanks supplied by companies such as Abeco tanks. Even architecture is increasingly being designed to maximise rainwater harvesting, and we have already made a start on this mammoth shift.

As a country that has privatised much of its medical, educational and safety sectors to meet increasing demands – water is simply next. If we are to reduce, harvest, store and recycle enough water to be self-sustained is to go for a multifaceted decentralised approach. This means that interventions can be implemented on many levels to reach goals of water self-reliance.

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