CAPE TOWN, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Unless drastic measures are taken to conserve water resources and promote efficient use, water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
Existing water systems in the country are already over-exploited as usage increases rapidly due to population growth and as more homes get connected to water, the president said in his weekly address to the nation.
Average dam levels are currently around 58 percent, compared to 69 percent for the same time last year, according to Ramaphosa.
South Africa has experienced a decade-long drought which has put immense pressure on its water systems and left devastating impact on agriculture and communities, especially in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces.
Earlier this year, the government provided 260 million rand (about 17.7 million U.S. dollars) in response to the drought.
Given the severity of the crisis, this amount is woefully inadequate, Ramaphosa said.
Disaster management authorities are working with provinces and municipalities to see how they can reprioritize their budgets for relief and recovery, he said.
South Africa is a severely water-scarce country with no mighty rivers that flow all season.
With an average annual rainfall of 500 mm, compared to a global average of 860mm, South Africa is the world's 30th driest country.
"Although we have made substantial progress in providing water to our citizens over the past 25 years, access to water and deteriorating water quality continues to fuel service delivery protests," Ramaphosa said. "We must improve access to water for communities, upgrade water infrastructure, and manage water more carefully, or face social unrest."
Last week, Ramaphosa visited Lephalale, Limpopo Province where economic development is being held back by drought, poor water infrastructure and delays in obtaining water-use licenses.
"As part of our efforts to remove bureaucratic barriers to economic growth, we have directed that the water permit office should reduce the waiting time for water licenses, and significant progress has been made," Ramaphosa said.
The National Disaster Management Center is coordinating measures to alleviate the impact of the drought.
Relief projects, like emergency borehole drilling and water tankers, are in place in affected areas, and demand is being managed through water restrictions and rationing, according to Ramaphosa.
In the long term, especially if the drought persists, the country will also have to develop technologies such as evaporation suppression, fog harvesting and cloud seeding, he said.
"To ensure our future water security, we will need funding of at least 126 billion rand (about 8.6 billion dollars) for infrastructure," the president said.
Water conservation is everyone's responsibility, and all South Africans should play their part, Ramaphosa said.
"Unless we act now, we may not have water anywhere," he warned.