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The considerable attention the new administration is giving to Eskom is both understandable and necessary. But failures in the management of water pose as much risk to the national economy as Eskom does, and wholly insufficient attention is being given to water. Why is this the case and what needs to be done? The immediacy of impact is one reason. Disruption of coal deliveries, for example, will rapidly result in the lights going out, affecting almost all South Africans. In contrast, water infrastructure can be under-maintained for years and still deliver a tolerable service. If the next dam is not built in time, nobody notices unless and until the rains fail. At this point, it is expedient to blame the resulting crisis on drought. This is wrong. The purpose of water resources planning and management is to build resilience into the water system in the face of climate variability, a phenomenon familiar to SA and likely to present greater challenges in future. While the Cape Town drou...

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