Harnessing private expertise for world-class public infrastructure

The best way to tackle South Africa’s water woes is through public-private partnerships, says experienced P3 infrastructure developer, the Gap Infrastructure Corporation.

Large numbers of South Africans use public taps as a source of water.

South Africa’s taps are at risk of running dry as its water-supply infrastructure comes under mounting pressure. As millions go without reliable in-home water connections and water supply infrastructure buckles under the pressure of population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation, the 2023 World Water Day theme of “accelerating change” was especially relevant for South Africans and the Gap Infrastructure Corporation (GIC).

The lack of access to clean water in many rural areas is becoming increasingly critical as water scarcity grows, leading to overcrowding at communal water taps and increased reliance on dirty or contaminated groundwater sources.

According to the last General Household Survey by Statistics South Africa, an alarming 12.2% of households used a public tap as a source of water; 1.9% used a neighbour’s tap; 1.8% used flowing, stream or river water; 1.7% made use of a water-tanker; 1.6% used a water vendor; and 1.5% used a rain-water tank, among other alternative sources.

Adding to the country’s water scarcity woes is below-average rainfall. South Africa’s annual precipitation is almost half that of the global average at just 497mm per year. “Given the high demands on South Africa’s water resources, it is crucial that we prioritise the development of sustainable and easily accessible water infrastructure such as boreholes or rainwater harvesting systems, and invest in upgrading existing water supply systems,” says Roelof van den Berg, CEO of GIC.

Water infrastructure is under pressure.

Community education on water conservation and efficient water use is also vital. Through teaching households water-wise habits, community education can help reduce the burden on shared water sources and ensure that more people have access to safe and clean water in their homes.

“World Water Day called for increased efforts to promote water conservation, efficient water use and sustainable water management practices. It also emphasises the importance of innovative solutions and technologies to ensure that water resources are used more sustainably.

“Finally, the topic of ‘accelerating change’ was particularly relevant for GIC as a trusted construction partner in the drive to roll out reliable water infrastructure for the benefit of all South Africans.”

In the ongoing quest to improve infrastructure development nationally, public-private partnerships have emerged as an invaluable tool. These successfully bring together the expertise and resources of both private construction companies and government to deliver enhanced services.

The four big benefits that companies can bring to the process are diverse:

Enhanced infrastructure roll-outs

Public-private partnerships are an effective way of increasing capacity, ensuring that more projects are undertaken simultaneously at a high-quality standard. By utilising these partnerships in the development of water infrastructure, South Africans can enjoy the benefits of new water-treatment plants and upgraded water-supply systems, while stimulating job creation, small business growth and increased investment in new technology and innovations for world-class water and sanitation systems.

Expert planning and design

Through proper planning and design, infrastructure development companies help to ensure that projects are initiated and managed in environmentally sustainable and cost-effective ways. Drawing on deep infrastructure development expertise and experience, companies such as GIC further work to ensure that projects meet the needs of specific communities. This includes developing comprehensive water and sanitation plans, identifying appropriate technologies and conducting feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments.

Professional project management for maximum returns

The private sector can supply government with the required expertise as well as the qualified and experienced staff needed to ensure the success of large-scale projects. Infrastructure development companies can manage construction contractors and sub-contractors, liaise with numerous suppliers and control operations to ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.

Roelof van den Berg, CEO of Gap Infrastructure Corporation (GIC)
Community education and partnerships

Private companies can assist in launching and managing important learning and awareness programmes with communities, sharing responsibility with public entities for education and upliftment. For example, companies involved in water infrastructure development may roll out programmes teaching community members about water conservation and efficient water use and provide technical training and upskilling to local workers in the construction, operation and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure.

Many of our country’s water issues, current and future, can be resolved in large part by upgrading the country’s ailing water system and constructing new infrastructure in previously under-served areas. Public-private partnerships are the most suitable, sustainable and beneficial way to ensure that quality infrastructure is developed sooner rather than later.