It’s not easy being green

2011-09-27 00:00

“THIS is not a talk shop. There has been enough of talk shops. It is time for action. All levels of government and civil society are represented here. The people present are here to work. So let us get down to work.”

With these words, uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) municipal manager Sbu Khuzwayo opened a recent gathering of the government and civil society organisations: a newly formed district environmental management forum. Those present represented the “who’s who” of the environmental sector and had one broad concern in mind: the future survival of the district.

In the long term, the UMDM aims to produce a strategic environmental management plan (Semp), but until then, environmental management forums will be held every two months.

“The Semp, like all planning processes, will produce a plan of what should be done. The work of the forum is to find urgent solutions to the key environmental issues affecting the district now,” said Riaz Jogiat, acting manager: municipal functions.

What Jogiat referred to as “key environmental issues” that need “urgent solutions” are actually a complex set of problems that constitute, like environmental matters around the globe, a life-threatening crisis. Pick almost any area to do with the environment and its status is the same: “critical”, “endangered”, “in jeopardy” or “at risk”, seriously threatening the lifestyle that middle-class uMgungundlovu­ residents enjoy.

At the first forum meeting, Khuzwayo was serious about action in response to the environmental crisis. By the end of the intensive five-hour session, Jogiat had mapped out the skeleton of an action plan that he described as “a work in progress”. This has been circulated to stakeholders who are adding their input, proposing possible solutions, indicating possible costs and funding opportunities. The priorities identified by the forum include:

• improving drinking water quality and managing water demand that already outstrips supply;

• improving waste water management and upgrading sewage treatment plants;

• removing solid waste that pollutes land and water, and improving recycling and organic waste treatment;

• adapting to climate change — the midlands is a “hot spot” of predicted significant change;

• environmental education;

• improving air quality;

• environmental compliance and enforcement, especially pollution of water­ sources; and

• building the district’s green economy.

Jogiat explained the thinking behind the action plan and the forum: “The framework of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) identifies the need to co-ordinate policy and action on environmental management issues. The UMDM identified the need to bring all stakeholders in the environmental sector together as it is a very interdependent but fragmented sector.

“The district faces some huge challenges in managing the environment. Various players in government, business and civil society are very active, yet there is currently very little dialogue between them all. Environmental issues are interlinked and cross-cut many sectors so dialogue and co-operation are vital.

“There is also a great need to increase the priority accorded to environmental issues. The environment needs to be treated at the same level as the economy and social issues because it is the basis upon which all life depends upon. We cannot leave it and think it will sort itself out. It has to be raised to the highest level politically and administratively as you cannot get much done unless there is political and management support for it,” Jogiat said.

Khuzwayo and Jogiat readily admit that the idea of co-ordinating environmental activities in an area the size of this district (see box), which varies from remote rural to urban areas­, is ambitious, to say the least. “Yes, it is ambitious, but unless we try, we cannot say we have failed. We have to try. Ours is the generation that has the task of sorting out the legacy of the past 200 years so that we can leave our children and grandchildren an Earth that is sustainable.

“We invited 60 people to the first forum and 65 attended. These were all people who want to restore the Earth, who know how important it is and what a big task it is, and there are many more people out there who share the same vision too,” Jogiat said.

In answer to the obvious question, “Who is going to pay for all this?” Khuzwayo admitted that the district environmental health unit has “a meagre budget”, so the plan is to influence the way local municipalities spend their budgets so as to ensure that environmental issues receive high priority.

In addition, an international donor has been found that will provide funding towards the water and sanitation programme so that the significant beneficiary is a healthier environment,” Khuzwayo explained. “Cogta [Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs] has just given us R21 million for advancing waste-management services as a result of our aggressive approach. It is not so much about the size of the budget but rather how environmental management issues are ‘mainstreamed’ within the municipality.”

Another potential problem area is creating yet another environmental forum that has no “teeth” to enforce compliance. Jogiat said it has long been recognised that South Africa has some of the finest environmental legislation in the world, but a poor record of compliance and enforcement. How much hope of success this district initiative has is questionable, as it lacks authority to enforce legislation, monitor­ compliance and hold transgressors accountable.

However, Jogiat seems confident that the new environmental management inspectors (EMIs) or Green Scorpions are the answer. “Nema provides­ for municipal officials to be designated as EMIs to carry out a monitoring function. We hope to have as many as 20 inspectors accredited in 2012 to be able to inspect, enforce legislation and prosecute if necessary,” he said.

The next environmental forum is on October 14. People interested in attending should register with the UMDM­ by contacting Nosipho Moyo at 033 897 6808 or nosipho.moyo@ umdm.gov.za

Caption: uMgungundlovu district

UMGUNGUNDLOVUDISTRICT

Size: 9 500 km²

Municipalities: 7: Umngeni, Msunduzi, Richmond, Impendle, Mkambathini, uMshwathi and Mpofana.

Blue Drop municipalities: 1, Msunduzi

Green Drop municipalities: 0, UMDM scored 73,6% in 2011; 27% in 2010

Notable assets: Midmar Dam, Albert Falls Dam, Umgeni River, Msunduzi River, wetlands, mist-belt grasslands, indigenous forests

The district faces some huge challenges in managing the environment. Various players in government, business and civil society are very active, yet there is currently very little dialogue between them all. Environmental issues are interlinked and cross-cut many sectors so dialogue and co-operation are vital.

— Riaz Jogiat, acting manager: municipal functions

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