SA water policy implementation is urgent, says WWF

2013-09-16 09:23
South Africa's policies on water and environment need to be fully implemented, the WWF has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

South Africa's policies on water and environment need to be fully implemented, the WWF has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - It is critical to implement the management policies for water resources in South Africa, an environmental organisation has said.

"We've had the best policies globally; we've had the best legislation globally. We've been really slow in, first of all, building the institutions that were envisaged to implement those policies and that legislation," hydrogeologist Christine Colvin, senior manager of fresh water programmes at the WWF SA told News24.

Colvin said that laws like the National Water Act and Nema (National Environmental Management Act) were world class pieces of legislation, but that when it came to implementation, there was a an acute shortfall.

"Also, we've been very slow with implementation with our existing institutions and then prosecuting and setting legal precedents that this is not going to happen," she said.

The management of land in sensitive areas is often allowed to be developed, resulting in sometimes unpredictable, but mostly negative effects for the environment.


Development in low-lying areas can result in flooding and the destruction of ecosystems and pollution of the water.

"That's been the real elephant in the catchment for the last 10 years," Colvin said of the lack of effective implementation on environmental policies.

The process of catchment management areas (CMAs) appears to be in flux as documents obtained from the department of water affairs and forestry (Dwaf) indicate that there should be 19 CMAs.

However in March 2012, the minister Edna Molewa proclaimed that nine CMAs would serve the needs of SA. That proclamation indicated that there was a lack of capacity to manage CMAs and a challenging regulatory environment.

The urgency of a comprehensive policy implementation overhaul is highlighted by the fact that a significant percentage of South African dams are at risk.

According to the Water Research Commission (WRC), about a third of South African dams face eutrofication which occurs when high levels of pollutant in water bodies result in excessive plant growth.

The Water Wheel report of 2008 found that 35% of SA dams are impaired by the process of eutrofication, higher than the continental average of 28%.


According to a Dwaf presentation to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, six CMAs were gazetted and two were functional - Inkomati and Breede-Overberg.

"The fact that we only have one functioning catchment managing agency which is for the Breede basin - the Breede Overberg Catchment Management Agency - means that we haven't moved ahead in the way that we should have done in terms of the implementation," said Colvin.

She said that the WWF perceived competing government priorities in terms of environmental policy and developing the economy.

"I think there's also been this push from government which has seen development and the environment competing for resources with each other which shouldn't be the case," Colvin said.

At the height of the financial crisis of 2008, many environmentalists in Europe feared that governments would reduce funding for environmental projects because it was seen as having a financial cost.

But Colvin argued that the cost of ignoring the environment was higher than taking action, particularly where there was deliberate harm being done.

"The economy doesn't exist separate to the natural environment. We all drink water - there's a saying 'If you think it's only about the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.'"

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Read more on:    wwf  |  environment  |  water

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