Wednesday, 2 February 2011

World Wetlands Day 2011- South Africa

Water is a complicated issue in Southern Africa just at the moment. Research suggests that reserves of fresh water are rapidly running out. Some areas of South Africa have begun to seriously investigate (and some are already investing in) desalination as a solution to anticipated (and sometimes already experienced) water scarcity. 2009 and the first half of 2010 saw widespread drought in the southern half of the country. 2010 has brought a whole new water-problem with flooding affecting seven of South Africa's nine provinces. 100 people have died and millions of rands of damage to farmland, infrastructure and homes has been caused. At the same time Johannesburg, it turns out, has a large, and rising, acid-mine drainage problem, predicted to affect the cities groundwater within the next 24 months and already reaching as far as the Cradle of Humankind

Of course, this is not a uniquely South African problem. According to the Ramsar website
Global freshwater consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 – more than double the rate of population growth. One third of the world's population today lives in countries already experiencing moderate to high water stress. By 2025, two out of every three people on Earth may well face life in water-stressed conditions.
Against this backdrop, wetlands, which play such a crucial role in water purification and maintenance, seem an obvious focus for protection and conservation. Sadly, these crucial and sensitive ecosystems are being wiped out at a rapid rate. The Department of Environmental Affairs estimates that 50% of South Africa's wetlands have been destroyed or converted. Residential and industrial developments go up with little concern for the long-term effects on water-supply. Many South Africans know nothing about wetlands or their importance beyond recognizing the majestic iSimangaliso Wetland Park (St Lucia) as a great tourist destination. 

The one area where South Africa is showing some success, as well as great use of the intersection between the needs of conservation and employment creation, is the EPWP's Working for Wetlands project. In 2009, Working for Wetlands rehabilitated 95 wetlands (in nine provinces), creating jobs for 1500 people and supporting 250 small businesses. If South Africa wishes to secure its water-future, far more needs to be done to preserve wetlands and Working for Wetlands is a great place to start. 

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