Principles of Water Quality

The most fundamental human needs or uses of water are drinking, cooking and sanitation. To meet these needs, the quality of the water available must pose no risk to human health. The quality of water also affects the condition of ecosystems upon which all living organisms depend (UNESCO 2005).

Beyond use of water for drinking, cooking and sanitation, humans use waterbodies as convenient sinks for the disposal of waste – domestic, industrial and agricultural. These uses degrade water quality and can have severe environmental impacts, difficult to alleviate even with treatment.

Maintaining water quality is critical for communities throughout the Limpopo River basin, and is required to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Of the eight MDGs or associated targets, protection of water quality in the river system directly or indirectly contributes to the fulfillment of the following four:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  • Reduce child mortality: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate
    Combat disease: including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and waterborne diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

Three primary forces affect southern Africa’s freshwater environment, in all of the basin states:

  • Geographic and climatic conditions – geographic and climatic conditions impact freshwater quality in different ways, but as a rule the more constrained water resources are geographically and climatically, the greater the pressure from water quality issues.
  • Development – all stages of development have potential to impact water quality, but as nations industrialise, pollution becomes an ever greater problem. Furthermore, when socio-economic activities drive water use and management, water quality usually suffers.
  • Policy on water resources – policies are important tools that authorities can use to protect and manage water resources.

Source: Adapted from Walmsley et al. 1999

Water-quality monitoring and analysis is multi-faceted and complex; best understood by dividing characteristics into the following four sets:

The above characteristics are described in more detail in the following sections.

Water quality monitoring in the Klip River, South Africa. Source: Mac 2008


Current ongoing initiatives.

LIMCOM's current ongoing interventions being undertaken