Be inspired by the month of water
We have seen such powerful and inspiring images from South Africans reaching out to our communities in dire need of this life-saving substance. If such a crisis can unite us, just imagine what we can achieve if we maintain this passion and determination to protecting our natural water resources, especially at such an apt time.
Vaughan Koopman, of the WWF Mondi Wetlands Programme has seen first-hand the effects of this drought in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands river systems during a recent visit. This is what he had to say:
A few weeks ago I was visiting farmers in the midlands area who are working with WWF to reduce water and energy use. Confronted by how dry it was, I ventured to a section of the uMngeni River that runs through a farm that I had lived on for 10 years. I would see the river every day and knew its moods. This was the first time I’d seen it in its current state. In the few months since I’d last visited, it’s bountiful waters had slowed a trickle.
Realising that it had all but run dry was astonishing. The area that I looked at is a natural part of the river, above the dams and inter-basin transfers from the Mooi River. It has taken just one season - at most two - of below average rainfall for it to run bare. All of us, from Howick to Durban and beyond, are now entirely dependent on water stored in the dams on the Mooi and uMngeni Rivers.
Our dams are a magnificent feat of engineering allowing us the “wiggle room” we are using but we can’t rely solely on water reserves because ultimately they, too, will run dry. It’s not like they generate new supply. It calls attention to the need to protect our natural ecosystems that gift us with the water we glean from our taps. Albert Falls Dam has only 38% in reserve, Midmar is half full with Mearns Weir and Spring Grove Dam at 84%. It makes me wonder what we would have done if the recent rains hadn’t come?
A drought-stricken Mooi River in December 2015.
In the 1960s, the so-called Green Revolution doubled food production through innovations in agriculture but we’ve arguably reached the limits of that. Now we have to innovate again and work together because, unlike in the 60s when water and land were plentiful, we have very little space left.
We need to harness the commitment of farmers and business to become water stewards of our catchment areas. These groups recognise the connection between healthy environments and flourishing businesses, cities and communities. The challenge is outdated market economics where consumers demand the lowest price that comes at the cost of the soil and water farmers use. At WWF we help bridge this divide, bringing people together to unlock ways of working together to challenge this business as usual approach.
Through the WWF-Mondi Wetlands Programme we work with producers at ground level, helping them become better stewards of the wetlands, riparian areas and rivers on their properties. We need water resources to be managed across physical boundaries so that this isn’t just the responsibility of the farmer or landowner, but of everyone involved in the value chain.
We’re all connected to our landscape, from the mountains, through to the rolling foothills, the rivers, wetlands and towns.
Just as streams of water from a network of wetlands in the lower foothills of the Drakensberg into the uMngeni River, so, too, do all our collective actions lead to something powerful and lasting.
- Vaughan Koopman is a social ecologist with WWF South Africa. If you’re a Midlands farmer or business interested in water stewardship, please contact Vaughan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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