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Youth step up to sort water, sanitation woes

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The floundering economy also poses a challenge to the creation of much-needed jobs

As South Africa prides itself on the 81.3% matric pass rate it achieved last year, which is the highest in the democratic era, many young people who are entering higher education are growing increasingly sceptical about their future.

This reality is explained partly by the fact that, besides the stagnant economy, there is a mismatch between the type of skills they acquire and the immediate needs of the country.

Students across the country are looking for places at institutions of higher learning. This is testimony to the fact that they aim to make something of their lives. However, the floundering economy also poses a challenge to the creation of much-needed jobs.

Be that as it may, it must be pointed out that South Africa provides vast opportunities in areas where critical skills are urgently needed.

The kind of challenges South Africa faces indicate that there is a lack of critical skills. Unless we focus our attention on making up the lack of critical skills we are likely to continue languishing in the economic quagmire that leaves many of our graduates unemployed.

For instance, the crises of water shortage and recurring drought place South Africa at a crossroads. But however good our plans to address these challenges, we cannot hope to move forward without having the necessary skills. It is projected that we face a 17% water deficit by 2030 and this calls for a set of special skills to be employed.

Furthermore, 56% of more than 1150 municipal wastewater treatment works and approximately 44% of the 962 water treatment plants in the country are in a poor or critical condition. There is a need to urgently rehabilitate these facilities using skilled operators.

This is, therefore, a compelling reason that our young people should place themselves at the heart of addressing these challenges. To some extent, a lot has been done to close the gap of skills in fields like engineering, but much more must still be done to attract youth into critical sectors. The water and sanitation sector is one such sector. Students must be alive to this reality by pursuing careers that address the skills shortage.

Placing themselves where they are needed most, the youth will arm themselves with skills that make them employable. And, to some extent, this will decisively deal with the challenge of youth unemployment.

As one of the driest countries in the world, we need hordes of young people to pursue careers in the water sector. The much-talked about Fourth Industrial Revolution is something that should find expression in the set of skills that the youth possess.

The Department of Water and Sanitation involves the youth into the water sector through programmes such as Baswa Le Meetse, the Aqua Enduro and the South African Youth Water Prize Competition.

These programmes ensure that South Africa continues to be on the top of the food chain economically by virtue of having youth with the right skills to drive economic and social development.

In this regard, the youth who passed their matric last year should seriously consider careers in the water and sanitation sector.

The water and sanitation challenges in the country are ones that need the youth to be part of the solution in addressing the need to provide access to more than three million people who still do not have access to a basic water supply, and still millions of others who lack access to sanitation.

Hosiea Sithole is a communicator at the Department of Water and Sanitation in Gauteng.