Fragile ecosystems under threat of growing communities

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 24 May 2010

How can communities develop economically and socially without damaging the fragile ecosystems they live in?

That was the primary question at a seminar hosted at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on Friday by the national Department of Social Welfare, the UN’s Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead) programme and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

Agathosma serpyllacea - coastal fynbos, Western Cape

The seminar is one of six set to take place over the next six months in preparation for the International Training Session on Population, Climate Change and Development Conference in Port Elizabeth, in October.

One of the speakers at Friday’s event, Schalk Potgieter, assistant director of strategic planning in the municipality’s human settlement unit, said the nexus of population development and critical ecosystems was a crucial one in Mandela Bay.

Five biomes or broad indigenous vegetation zones meet here and two, coastal fynbos and thicket, are particularly fragile.

These ecosystems are vulnerable to human development and also to climate change, which will likely result in rising seas and increasingly fierce and frequent storms – putting pressure especially on impoverished communities living on marginal land.

This can result in migration by “climate change refugees” and conflict, in turn, with people in the areas where they migrate to, and greater pressure on that land.

Another predicted result of climate change, which is already being felt, is increased rainfall in the eastern part of the province – and increased aridity in the western region, including the metro.

“This means greater pressure on our drinking water supplies and on our food security. It means possible outbreaks of disease due to the arrival of vectors like mosquitos that were not prevalent here before.”

Most of all, he says, it means we must take good care of what water we have and that means we must take care of fragile ecosystems like wetlands, which purify water and stem floods, when they do come, storing and distributing it sustainably.

One of the corners of the metro where this need to protect is not being implemented is in the Chatty 3 and Chatty 4 sections, where illegal dumping of rubbish and rubble is eroding the capacity of local wetlands to carry out these important functions.

Lack of awareness of the illegality of these actions and of the importance of the wetlands is one of the reasons for this dumping, but it was also the result of a lack of services, he admitted.

The metro had to act urgently in 2005 to move families living on the Soweto-on-Sea floodplain because their shacks were in danger of being swamped by floods. In 2006, the floods came and the Zanemvula (“comes with the rain”) Project was signed off.

Three thousand four hundred people were moved across to new homes in Chatty extensions. But because it had to be done so urgently, only basic services and no clinics, schools or proper waste management were set in place.

The metro is rectifying the situation as well as building more homes for a further 7000 people who are due to move into the area.

“We have to have to ensure that simultaneous, integrated delivery takes place of houses, services and also eco-education and buy-in from the community on the need to protect their environment.”

The metro would mount a wide-scale refuse and rubble clean-up, he said.

Metro public health portfolio chairman Noluthando Mapu welcomed the seminars and the capacity they would help to build. “We need to become more informed so we in turn can reach out to our communities,” she said.

– Guy Rogers
Source: Weekend Post

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