State of Water in Cities

The South African Cities Network (SACN) has included water management on its agenda as one of its focus areas: Dealing with City Vulnerabilities, owing to the growing threat of freshwater scarcity largely as a consequence of increasing demand, pollution, unsustainable use and climate change. To facilitate the reporting on water and its management by the SACN, a detailed technical report was commissioned of which the main objective was to conduct an assessment of the current state and quality of water infrastructure within cities as well as the condition of the freshwater resources (rivers and wetlands). SACN would then be well placed to understand city related issues to improve their alignment with the national imperatives of good water management to achieve food and energy security, ecosystems conservation and reduction of risks from water scarcity (climate change).


This summary report addresses water issues through the following topics:

  • Resource availability at city level in relation to its use
  • Fitness for use of water (water quality)
  • Condition of freshwater resources (ecosystems) and impacts on people and infrastructure
  • Condition of water infrastructure and management in the cities • Responses to climate change impacts
  • Revenue management, pricing and budgeting for water supply services, including water loss management.


For each of the above topics, indicators were determined through an extensive literature review which brought the total number of indicators tracked for this research to a set of 142 indicators. The indicators used are indicators already monitored by various role-players. Data per city was then collected to see how cities performed in relation to these indicators (SACN, 2014). This report provides a summary of key findings from the data collection and analysis done, as well as a desktop study of the current available literature and research on water in cities in South Africa.