Clean Drinking Water
South Africa’s water is scarce and acid mine drainage is creating further shortages. The problem is treatable, but it has not yet been addressed. A partnership of companies, government, and non-governmental organizations may be the answer.
Water collecting in abandoned mines mixes with iron pyrite and oxygen to create sulphuric acid. This water is highly acidic, which allows it to absorb heavy metals. This is what we know as acid mine drainage, or AMD water. Flowing from abandoned mines, coal discard dumps, slurry dams, and waste rock dumps, AMD poses one of the most serious threats to our environment. The quality and availability of residential, industrial, and agricultural water supplies are all threatened. This is an urgent challenge.
AMD does not have to be a problem. The water can be treated to produce drinkable quality, and the polluting elements can be turned into useful products. However, finding a way to finance a solution that balances the rights and obligations of all the parties involved has proved extremely difficult.
Water is regarded as a human right in South Africa, secured by the constitution. Protecting this right means making affordable water available to everyone. While there are simple technical solutions available for cleaning AMD water, these incur significant costs. Combining the need for low-cost universal access to water with fully-funded solutions has complicated the implementation of treatment processes.
The government has yet to find a way to structure and finance its own comprehensive solution to the problem. And, despite the best efforts of the dozens of parties active in this area, from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to mining companies, none has had the combined scale, resources, and credibility to fully resolve the issue.