Credit WWF

By 2030 South Africa will have a 17% greater demand for freshwater than we have available in the country, according to projections from the Department of Water and Sanitation. Our water catchments are stressed, many are heavily degraded invaded with alien invasive vegetation, and all available water has already been allocated in many regions. As a result, much of our economy is already water limited.

With climate change pointing to even more extreme weather events, and COP26 underlining the need for urgent action by corporates to respond to the climate-water crisis, it follows that water risk assessments and remedial measures urgently need to be integrated into financial and investment decisions.

Fortunately, action can and is be taken in this regard. In October WWF globally launched the WWF Water Risk Filter 6.0 – a web-based tool that all corporates, businesses and investment institutions in South Africa and worldwide can use to assess and respond to their water risk.

‘This is the latest version of the tool that WWF first introduced in 2012,’ says Caroline Gelderblom, Manager of Water Source Financing and Institutional Frameworks at WWF in South Africa. ‘Corporates and businesses worldwide from over 30 industry sectors, have used the Water risk Filter (WRF) to assess their facilities, including several operating in South Africa. Banks and financial institutions are also using this tool because water is a key risk and they want to understand and actively reduce the exposure of their investment.’

The latest 6.0 version is a significant step up from previous versions and is now available. It can be accessed at,’ An international webinar was held on 7 December to promote uptake.

“As a corporate screening tool, the WWF Water Risk Filter 6.0 enables users to prioritise action to address their specific water risks Gelderblom explains. ‘You get two types of risks: the first is basin risk – this is driven by where you are located which determines how much rainfall you receive, the health of your catchment and  local water governance structures. The second risk is your operational risk – this is determined by the way you run your business.’

Both are essential and the Water Risk Filter 6.0 is the only global tool that looks at externally driven basin risks but then also hones down to examine each organisation’s specific operational water risks. ‘Operational risks can be mitigated by good water stewardship starting with internal operational responses, and from here we help you to develop or join partnerships that collectively build resilience in the catchments and river basins in which you operate,’ says Pamela Sekese, geospatial officer in WWF’s Freshwater Programme.

The whole basis of the tool and what WWF calls its ‘water stewardship ladder’ is to develop an understanding of water risk at a company and portfolio level across countries. ‘From here we can decide at all levels of the ladder what to do to minimise water risk, water pollution and adapt to climate change,’ says Sekese.

Proactive action makes financial, social and environmental sense, considering that the most recent evidence based on actual losses recorded on the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) reporting platform indicates that it is five times more cost effective to avoid water risk than to be exposed to it.

‘It is free to use and the steps and processes are logically set out on the website. Corporates and businesses can either use version 6.0 independently of WWF, or they can contract the support of WWF,’ says Sekese. The WWF Nedbank Green Trust, funded by Nedbank, is funding high-level training for WWF staff in the use of this tool to optimally support corporates and businesses who need help with their analysis.

The enhanced tool contains a recently updated South African higher resolution dataset which was funded by the Global Environment Facility through the Development Bank of Southern Africa in collaboration with the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and a range of partners, including the Institute of National Resources (INR) whose team collated the fine scale risk data.

South Africa is one of a handful of regions in the world currently offering this fine-scale data which allows for higher resolution water risk analyses; the others are Europe, Brazil, Chile, Columbia and Mekong.

In addition, the upgrades to version 6.0 include:

  • Unique climate and socioeconomic-based scenarios to assess future water risks
  • Improved interfaces to manage user data and visualise risk assessment results

Managing our water risk is centred on managing our natural environment and water sources better, including planning for climate change.

Clearing of alien invasive trees in our catchments and river areas, and rehabilitating them, is essential. Alien invasive trees can reduce the total surface water flow up to 30% and the impacts can double during the dry season. Furthermore, if our catchments are degraded, then our dams fill with sediment, which completely compromises their storage capacity.

Gelderblom and Sekese explain that most of our major rivers start in strategic water source areas high in the mountains, which is also where most of our major dams are situated. Ten percent of South Africa, Eswatini and Lesotho produce 50% of the region’s water and WWF is supporting partnerships in these strategic water source areas. Water from these areas not only supports 50% of the population, but also 64% of the national economy and 70% of our irrigated agriculture. These areas are vital to our food, water, energy and economic security, but are degrading. Invasive alien trees are choking the rivers and replacing indigenous vegetation; there is overgrazing and soil erosion; wetlands are being drained or ploughed; fires run rampant, and pollution is caused by poor waste collection and sanitation.

By rehabilitating our catchment areas, we can increase their resilience to climate change and reduce our water risk – there will then be more water available

in the driest periods, and the quality of the water will also be better. This rehabilitation can also support South Africa’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery – it creates outdoor jobs, generates income for poor households and provides a direct stimulus to the local economy.

WWF South Africa is working in partnership with the private and public sectors and local communities to rehabilitate catchments in strategic water source areas in order to increase water security and build our collective resilience to climate change.

One of the ways that WWF supports collective action is to place catchment coordinators in local mandated institutions to build water source partnerships with the public and private sectors and local communities. In the Wolseley catchment, for example, the Woolworths-funded coordinator has helped to raise R23 million for ecological restoration in less than five years. This, in turn, has facilitated the clearing of 1 000 ha in the upper catchments and 88 km of riverbanks, saving 200 000 cubic metres of water annually.

‘The stewardship commitments from 120 farmers will ensure long-term sustainability,’ says Klaudia Schachtschneider, Water Stewardship Programme Manager at WWF. More than 150 people are employed through alien clearing, rehabilitation and two chipping SMMEs now operate independently in the area. Maintaining healthy catchments is the primary way in which we can counter water risk. Budgeting for this should become an integral part of good business practice. It is only through sustained investment in our shared ecological infrastructure that we can protect our individual investments, economies, livelihoods and well-being.’