National 15.8.2016 06:00 am

We are the architects of our ecological destiny

The Indian Ocean at Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu Natal on July 27, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson

The Indian Ocean at Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu Natal on July 27, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson

Government has to strike a balance between allowing demand to be filled and conservation.

Of the United Nations’ estimated 7.4 billion people supported by our only habitable planet, almost nobody will read this article, relatively speaking.

It’s a pity, because when we zoom in on South Africa with her nearly 55 million residents – the majority of whom are busy with basic survival in a country recuperating after devastating apartheid policies – the odds are information will simply vanish into the noise produced by the daily grind of everyday life across all communities.

Hence the need for protected areas, or, if bundled together as the department of environmental affairs (DEA) puts it in its South African Protected Areas Database 2016 second-quarter release, the conservation estate.

This “conservation estate” includes national parks, marine protected areas, biospheres, botanical gardens and military conservation areas, to name but a few of the 16 types of protected areas named by the DEA.

The idea of biospheres is a relatively new one in the South African environmental protection lexicon.

According to the DEA, “biosphere reserves are much more than ‘protected areas’. They should not be viewed as islands isolated from their surroundings, but rather as an integral part of a regional planning and development strategy aimed at promoting sustainable development.”

Each is unique in its own way thanks to its placement in the geography of the country, and the constitution of its economy and population.

The earliest is Kogelberg in the Western Cape, followed by the Cape West Coast (2000), Kruger to Canyons (K2C) (Mpumalanga and Limpopo, 2001), Waterberg (Limpopo,) the Cape Winelands (2007), the Vhembe biosphere (Limpopo, 2009), Gouritz (Eastern and Western Cape, 2015), and the Magaliesburg (Gauteng and North West Province, 2015).

The idea is to strike a balance between all the competing interests between man and the environment, to ensure sustainability.

For instance, in the Kruger to Canyon biosphere, it has mining on a massive scale to deal with.

Even after the mine dumps dominating the small town of Phalaborwa in Limpopo disappear over the horizon, the wail of the mines siren summoning and releasing miners can still be heard regularly in the distance as a reminder of its presence.

The Olifants River outside Phalaborwa in Limpopo on August 12, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson.

The Olifants River outside Phalaborwa in Limpopo on August 12, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson.

“Mining is a very sensitive issue,” K2C coordinator Marie-Tinka Uys told The Citizen. “But in K2C’s biosphere, it is very contained in that it is not able to extend into other areas.

“We are in a race as the protected areas; there are some danger areas around the Thaba ranch that are specifically a worry, but if we can demonstrate the value of a wildlife economy there is a chance people will follow,” Uys said.

The crash in commodities prices since 2008 has given other economies a chance to fill the gap, said Uys.

And the battle going forward will intensify as the need for natural resources grows to meet the demand of growing communities.

It’s government that has to strike a balance between allowing demand to be filled, as evidenced by the granting of a mining licence on the Kruger National Park’s western border, and conservation.

How well governments are doing is measured by World Overshoot Day, which is monitored by the Global Footprint Network (GFN).

This year, SA’s demand for ecological resources and services exceeded what the nation’s ecosystems can regenerate on 7 May, according to the GFN, which models its projections on United Nations 2012 data.

In May, the City of Johannesburg introduced “level 2” water restrictions, which meant no watering of gardens between 8am to 4pm, and no filling of swimming pools with municipal water or use hosepipes to was vehicles or paved areas and the like.

Plainly, residents have not been listening because the city has now introduced punitive tariffs for those who use more than 20 kilolitres.

Clouds gather over the drought stricken Shingwedzi River in the north of the Kruger National Park on June 6, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson

Clouds gather over the drought-stricken Shingwedzi River in the north of the Kruger National Park on June 6, 2016. Photo by Amanda Watson

The Dr JS Moroka and Thembisile Hani municipalities in Mpumalanga and parts of the Greater Sekhukhune Local Municipality in Limpopo, as well as farming communities around the towns of Ohrigstad and Lydenburg in the Thaba Chweu municipality, are also under water restrictions.

The ongoing drought has seen 35 dams fall under operating rules and mandatory restrictions on domestic and agricultural use are being applied in other zones across the country by the department of water and sanitation.

Of course water is just one of a plethora of resources under dire threat, drought-stricken arable land and the follow-on of falling crop production being others.

In December 2015, Grain SA estimated maize imports of 2.4 million tons for 2016, which would cost the South African economy about R8 billion.

“This would have a negative effect on the economy, resulting in a widening current account deficit and possibly influence the exchange rate movements,” Grain SA said.

All the above gives strength to the butterfly effect, the concept a small action in one place having large consequences – good or bad – somewhere else.

As custodians then, of this little rock hurtling through the universe, we are still the architects of our destiny.

 

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