South Africa water transfer project

Subject: Science
Type: Descriptive Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1051
Topics: Africa, Ecology, Environmental Issues, Government, Management


Water transfer schemes are water management strategies aimed at reducing imbalances between supply and demand by transferring water to supplement local supply in water-scarce areas or reduce harm caused by excess water (Gichuki and McCormick 345). The schemes entail construction of intricate systems of canals, pipes, and dredging over extensive distances to move water from one river basin (the donor basin) to another (the recipient basin). The current essay is aimed at looking at the water transfer project in South Africa. The essay will also investigate why such a system is required and the different people with an interest in South Africa’s water transfer scheme.

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Why water transfer schemes are required in South Africa

South Africa lies in a semi-arid region of the world and its water is an essential and scarce resource which is poorly distributed in terms of growing socio-economic requirements.  As the population grows and the economy develops, the water which is available must be shared between a wider range of users while their impact on its quality increases (Muller 1). Additionally, rainfall is poorly distributed and concentrated on only a small percentage of the land. Further, major centers of economic and social development of South Africa are in areas where water is not naturally found in plenty. The poorly distribution of water resources coupled by high demand makes it necessary to construct extensive system of inter-basin water transfer schemes so that water may be conveyed from areas of relative abundance to areas of necessity where water is relatively scarce. The existing schemes have a collective transfer volume equal to a little less than 8 per cent of the total available surface water in South Africa.  Economic activity in all nine provinces of South Africa is currently supported to some degree by water transferred from other areas. The central Gauteng province, upon which South Africa’s economy is centered, is the most dependent (Muller 3).

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)

Globally, Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is the largest transboundary water transfer system. The project has a total of six dams constructed within the Orange river basin. It transfers approximately 50 per cent of the water available from the Lesotho highlands to the Gauteng region in South Africa. The Gauteng region is the industrial hub of South Africa and contributes 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. However, critics of the project argue that affected rural communities were not sufficiently helped to restore their livelihoods. The project led to water stress and water scarcity for the communities living downstream of the river owing to changes in river flow (Pahl-Wostl et al. 231). The project resulted in increased water supply in South Africa. However, it caused negative impacts such as changes in flow, temperature and hydrology of the river water. Additionally, there were changes in the biology and chemistry of the river system resulting in erosion of river beds, permanent inundation of floodplains and destruction of wetlands. Furthermore, the project caused resettlement of people, loss of arable and grazing land, changes in livelihood conditions and other factors like health, transportation and housing (Tilt et al. S253). The LHWP offers a classic case of how water transfer systems decrease water security for livelihoods on one hand while increasing economic benefit on the other (Matete and Hassan 248).

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Stakeholders in South Africa’s water transfer system

The South Africa water transfer system is complex and hence the need of integrated management. Consequently, the system has different people who address various interests. Key stakeholders include the government of South Africa, environmentalists, water resource experts (including hydrologists), economists and social scientists. Additionally, we have local NGOs and international conservation bodies such as WWF, the world Bank which financed a big part of the LHWP. Finally, we have community-based groups that fight for the rights of affected communities in donor basin. Other crucial stakeholders are engineers who deal with design and construction of the canals and dams (Muller 4).


Conclusively, it holds from investigation that South Africa is a water scarce country with unequal distribution of water resources. This coupled with high and increased demand for water in water deficit areas such as Gauteng makes it necessary for water transfer systems. Where there are suitable sources of surplus water (in our case Lesotho) and a growing demand in a water deficit area (South Africa), water transfer will often occur as happened with the LHWP. Such systems offer economic benefit to all when good economics is embraced. However, as argued above, water transfers often result in negative impacts on the social-economic wellbeing of people because of displacement and loss of livelihood. Additionally, construction of the dams and canals may result in environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. Consequently, water transfer systems such as LHWP involve tradeoffs where economic growth in one region offsets the effect of the transfer through compensation of some sort. The key is usually to try and reduce the negative impacts of the transfer by ensuring that there is a balance between good economics (benefits higher for all), good environmental management, and good politics (reduce conflicts, assess whether plans will yield equitable and reasonable benefits). However, achieving this is usually difficult and requires genuine stakeholder engagement.

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  1. Gichuki, Francis, and Peter G. McCornick. “International Experiences of Water Tranfers: Relevance to India.” Strategic Analyses of the National River Linking Project (NRLP) of India Series, vol. 2, 2008, pp. 345-371.
  2. Matete, Mampiti, and Rashid Hassan. “Integrated ecological economics accounting approach to evaluation of inter-basin water transfers: An application to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.” Ecological Economics, vol. 60, no.1, 2006, pp. 246-259.
  3. Muller, Mike. “Inter-basin water sharing to achieve water security—a South African perspective.” Pretoria: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Republic of South Africa, 2002, pp. 1-11.
  4. Pahl-Wostl, Claudia, Anik Bhaduri, and Joyeeta Gupta, eds. Handbook on water security. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016, pp. 1-332.
  5. Pittock, Jamie, et al. “Interbasin water transfers and water scarcity in a changing world-a solution or a pipedream.” WWF Germany: Frankfurt am Main, Germany.).
  6. Tilt, Bryan, Yvonne Braun, and Daming He. “Social impacts of large dam projects: A comparison of international case studies and implications for best practice.” Journal of environmental management, vol. 90, 2009, pp. S249-S257.
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