More than half of SA ecosystems are threatened

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 21 Nov 2011

South Africa’s water resources and adjacent ecosystems are in a terrible state, with only 35% of the total length of the country’s mainstream rivers still in good condition.

The high levels of threat results particularly from intense land pressures.

The recently released Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas reveals that 57% of river ecosystems and 65% of wetland ecosystems are threatened.

Mandy Driver, the SA National Biodiversity Institute’s manager of biodiversity policy, said the Biodiversity Assessment published seven years ago highlighted the poor state of many river ecosystems, with the majority of the country’s large rivers rated “critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

“We needed a strategic intervention to help sustain and conserve freshwater ecosystems, and the Atlas is the result.”

The team, who spent three years researching and compiling the Atlas, found tributaries overall were in a “far better state” than mainstream rivers.

“They also support the sustainability of hard-working rivers further downstream by diluting poor quality water and flushing pollutants. Only 35% of the length of mainstream rivers is in good condition, compared to 57% of tributaries.

“The high levels of threat results particularly from intense land pressures, especially around cities,” the Atlas notes.

Project leader and CSIR principal scientist Jeanne Nel said water influences the well-being of a country’s people, and water shortages or a decline in water quality will hamper economic development.

“Ultimately, the quantity, quality and timing of water flows are determined by the health of the ecosystems through which the water passes.”

South Africa has only 62 free-flowing rivers (without dams), constituting only 4% of total river length. Free-flowing rivers have become a rare feature in the landscape and the Atlas has identified 19 that should be preserved.

Speaking at the Atlas launch, Deputy Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi, said water was fundamental to national economic growth and development – as well as South Africans’ well-being.

“This scarce resource should be well managed, protected, used, conserved and developed.”

She pointed out that deterioration in the health of ecosystems negatively affected their ability to provide beneficial services, such as the filtering performed by wetlands to provide potable water.

By: Kim Helfrich
Source: The New Age

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