Our lives are supported by finite natural resources that are threatened by various elements, including invasive alien and disasters such as veld fires
There is a concerted drive at various levels of government to mobilise communities to save water.
But little attention is paid to the real villains of water consumption and wastage – the invasive alien. But this is changing. The Department of Environmental Affairs has intensified the campaign to drastically reduce water wastage by the alien trees and plants found in various parts of the country.
Through a programme called Working for Water, the department has cleared more than 3 million hectares of land since the inception of the programme.
An estimated 48% of these are invasive trees with known impacts on water.
This clearing has resulted in the saving of a number of indigenous vegetation types throughout South Africa’s diverse landscapes.
Clearing always requires follow up and sometimes land users do not comply and the unwanted vegetation grow again.
If it is assumed that the average density of land cleared is around 14.4% one can estimate the amount of water gained. Water impacts vary significantly depending on the region.
Prosopis in the Karoo, for example, uses 80% more water than the natural vegetation, but the volumes are low in comparison with Eucalyptus in riparian zones.
The latter could easily be as much as 3500 m3/ha per year while in water stressed areas the water gain could be less than 700 m3/ha/year.
A rough estimate of the potential water gained as a result of clearing to date, based on the above is around 180 – 200 million/m3 per year since its inception.
The Working for Water programme has created estimated 210 600 person years of employment. Over the last 5 years on average around 48 300 people benefited ((2010/11 36 900 – (2015/16) 69 373).
Through investment under the Working for Wetlands programme, government has improved or secured the health of more than 80 000 hectares of wetland area.
Through its rehabilitation activities, the programme has created over 27 000 jobs, generating 3 million person days, of which 250 000 were in vocational and life skills training.
Teams that form part of the Programme are made up of a minimum of 60% women, 20% youth and 2% people with disabilities.
Wetlands, however, remain the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 48% of wetland ecosystems being critically endangered and we will, therefore, continue to fund interventions under this programme.
The Working for Wetlands Programme has since 2004 invested R1 billion into the rehabilitation of 1200 wetlands around South Africa. This also and created 25 000 job and much needed training.
Wetlands are among the most threatened aquatic habitats in South Africa due to bad land management practices, such as effluent disposal, overgrazing, unsustainable crop production, pollution, urban development and erosion.
These practices affect the water flow and quality, which ultimately destroys the wetland.
They are ecologically important as they moderate water flow and regulate water quality.
They store water during wet periods preventing floods and ensuring supply during droughts like the one South Africa is experiencing at the moment.
They purify water and control soil erosion.
The Working for Wetlands programme is mandated to protect, promote the wise-use and rehabilitate degraded wetlands all over the country.
Currently the bulk of the allocated budget goes into rehabilitation of degraded wetlands, and in the process jobs are created and skills are imparted to participants through training.
In the 2015/2016 financial year, Working for Wetlands generated over 220 000 person days, of which over 10 000 were training person days.
A total of 3233 jobs were created in 2015/16 with a budget allocation of R110 601 659.
The Working for Wetlands programme started in 2000, with a small number of rehabilitation interventions, but has grown to involve over 450 interventions being implemented each year.
This is done in excess of about 120 wetlands per year in all the nine provinces.
In the 2015/16 financial year, these programmes combined to provide 86 029 work opportunities to people. Of these, 65% were youth; 54% were female, and 3.8% were people with disabilities.
While the final figures are still to be verified, this translated into approximately 41 145 full-time equivalent jobs being paid in the financial year.
The programmes are run across the country, in all nine provinces, and focus on the most marginalised in our country.
The benefits of the work are demonstrable, in terms of providing training, of instilling a work ethic, of instilling a sense of dignity for doing work that matters, and in terms of giving hope to the unemployed.
The choice of programmes is designed to ensure that there are significant returns on investment, and that this is not “make-work” activities.
In a number of the programmes, the participants are paid on a task basis – i.e. they are paid for what they are set to do as a task, and not on a daily wage rate.
While that is not easily done in all programmes, it does help to instill a sense of responsibility, accountability and pride in performance.
The impact of the interventions includes, concrete structures, earth structures, gabions and re-vegetation.
In order to increase its footprint, the programme is gradually moving into compliance, extension, and beginning to target less degraded wetlands systems where simpler, smaller and cheaper interventions can be employed.
Some of the future plans include increasing the programmes footprint, expanding into other areas, and finding simpler and cost effective interventions, as well as catchment level planning to optimise benefits to ecological infrastructure and maximise impact, institutional and policy collaboration and or partnerships.
Furthermore through advocacy, by amplifying the value of wetlands and outcomes evaluations to unlock other sources of funding.
Working for Water has created thousands of jobs