Unesco ready to help protect Kogelberg biosphere amid drilling programme

2018-10-06 10:10

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Unesco has offered South Africa "technical support" to protect the Kogelberg biosphere and preserve the Unesco status of the reserve, which has one of the highest levels of biodiversity and endemism on the planet. 

Unesco chief of media services George Papagiannis said this week that "Unesco was ready to provide technical support to ensure that activities undertaken are within the requirements of the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of Unesco's Man and Biosphere programme (MAB)". 

The MAB programme is an intergovernmental programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments.

On Friday morning, chairperson of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve Company (KBRC) Michael du Toit welcomed the offer and called on the South African MAB national committee to engage with Unesco for its support. Du Toit said he would be writing to the committee, as well as to the national Department of Environmental Affairs.

Chairperson of the South African MAB national committee Ihron Rensburg is currently out of the country and referred our enquiries to the national department, which has declined to respond.

Last week Du Toit warned that he would not pay lip service to the ideals and principles of the Unesco programme while the City disregarded the concerns of the KBRC. "If this continues," he added, "the KBRC will not sign off the 10-year report that Unesco is expecting to keep our MAB status." 

Untreated water running directly into dam

In Unesco's response, Papagiannis said the periodic 10-year review, due in September 2020, would be "an opportunity to bring this issue to the attention of the MAB council".

"In the meantime, Unesco is ready to provide any technical support requested by a member state." 

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town is currently pumping approximately 1.728 million litres of groundwater per day from one test borehole in the Kogelberg biosphere. According to workers at the test site, 20 litres of groundwater have been pumped from 300m below ground, every second, for the last seven days.

Water from the borehole is running directly into the Steenbras Dam, just a few hundred metres from the borehole.

The water is being extracted from the Table Mountain Group Aquifer; part of the City of Cape Town's water augmentation programme that earlier this year sparked the concern of environmentalists who wrote to the City warning against the drilling.

There is no indication that the water is being treated before entering the dam, which has once again raised the concern of environmentalist Jasper Slingsby of the South African Environmental Observation Network who said "from discussions with people at the Department of Water and Sanitation I had thought this was a no-go without treatment". 

'This is not the way to go about it'

There was no response from for Department of Water and Sanitation spokesperson Malusi Rayi.

Currently, there are signs of construction or drilling activities at eight sites around the Steenbras Dam area. At one other site, a borehole has been closed and a pressure gauge indicates 200 kpa (2bar) of water pressure pushing up from the aquifer below.

According to Du Toit, work was stopped at two of these sites earlier in the year, when the drilling activity was first "discovered" by a City official and considered to be a threat to the indigenous flora and fauna of the biosphere, which is a World Heritage Site and a part of the Unesco Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme.

"There is no doubt there is water here, but this is not the way to go about it," said Du Toit, explaining that the City of Cape Town had not done sufficient research to understand the impact the drilling would have on the biosphere. 

"This is a very invasive activity and we're not being informed. I should not have to go running around to find out what the City is doing in the biosphere. They should be informing us of exactly what they are doing and where, rather than me having to chase them to find out."


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