In preparation for World Water Day on 22 March 2012, take the month of March to delve deeper into the ripple effect of South Africa’s dwindling water supply and endangered ecosystems. Steve du Toit and Jim Taylor from WESSA discuss the process of seeking the balance in managing water resources and social change. Here is an extract from their article published in Issue 9 of the Environment: People and Conservation in Africa
Nationally and globally, millions are leaving the lands, our agricultural roots, and living in urban environments. This separation from the soil, from the natural resources that sustain city life, is creating a collective forgetfulness. Water comes from a tap, food comes from a supermarket. When asked “where did the water come from” the response is “the tap is connected to a pipe which leads to a dam”. Hydrological cycles, catchments, and ecological reserves seldom occupy the mind of the average urbanite. There are too many other, more pressing issues, for the majority of humanity to be concerned about the implications, or costs, of water on tap.
As we lose direct contact with the natural ecosystem that sustains us, so our sense of separation increases. As we reach 7000 000 000 people mark, the perception of “too many people, not enough resources” grows. South Africa is recognised as a water scarce country. This means that the valuable rain we do receive must not be squandered on inappropriate agricultural, urban and industrial practices.
Despite the efforts of numerous committed and responsible municipal employees, the majority of waste water treatment works in South Africa are either overloaded, mismanaged, poorly staffed, or simply dysfunctional. The result is that immediately outside our urban areas, sewage flows back into already stressed river systems or the equally strained coastal environment. For a detailed, and sobering, national perspective of the state of waste water treatment works, visit www.dwa.gov.za
What are the long-term solutions that will result in long term, meaningful, social change is a mystery. If humans had learned how to create and enable real, large-scale social change, surely we would not be facing the socio-economic and environmental crises evident on our planet?
WESSA, a long-standing South African NGO, is supporting a form of change that encourages ‘self-control’ – this process engages with environmental managers through meaningful environmental education process and supports the form of change that farmers are proud to be part of. They learn to protect their land and water resources because it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid of the law.
How does this process come about? Let’s first ask ‘what do we already know?’ Specifically, what does the farmer bulldozing the wetland know? He knows that his father cleared a nearby wetland to improve the flow of water in the river. A site visit confirms the increased flow...and the resultant environmental destruction. Once the farmer has presented his position, the authority (or NGO, or neighbour, or agricultural union) may present information from a different perspective: while more water is made available to the farmer, soil, wetland species, ecosystem services (e.g. the sponge effect during floods) and habitat have been destroyed. And so a process of engaged dialogue, built on mutual respect develops. This form of social change is not built on simplistic messages or threats, but rather on engagement of ideas.
The farmer is encouraged to suggest remediate measures: the question is posed ‘what do you think should be done to reduce further environmental destruction?’ The emphasis is on encouraging social change through increased self-awareness or self-control. Anyone who has attempted constructive dialogue in a similar situation knows the value or remaining respectful, humble, calm and non-judgemental.
The process outlined above takes ‘the road less travelled’ compared to current practice; it allows the person who caused environmental destruction the opportunity to self-evaluate. And provide appropriate, constructive remedy. For those who have a cynical smile after reading this...have you tried it? This philosophy applies as much to you and I, as to the farmer, miner, industrialist or municipality, who has caused environmental degradation. Each of us is part of the problem; through creative, positive action, we can and must contribute to the solutions.
To obtain your copy of the Environment magazine, please join one of the organisations listed below:
Cape Leopard Trust – www.capeleopard.org.za – 027 482 9923
Endangered Wildlife Trust – www.ewt.org.za – 011 486 1102
Game Rangers Association of Africa – email@example.com – 082 962 5725
SANCCOB – www.sanccob.co.za – 021 557 6155
WESSA – www.wessa.org.za – 033 330 3931 ext 136
Wildlands Conservation Trust – www.wildlands.co.za – 033 343 6380
Wilderness Foundation of Southern Africa - www.wildernessfoundation.org.za – 041 373 0293
For a sample copy of the magazine, members of the media should contact Janet Fourie of Future Publishing at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 011 803 2040
Image source: liveearth.org