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Wetlands in danger: we ignore ‘water factories’ at our peril

IT HAS been six years since Anglo Coal established a wetland in Mpumalanga to “offset” its encroachment on another of the province’s wetlands. Wetlands cover a mere 2.4% of South Africa’s total 122-million hectare surface area, but the benefits they deliver, from water purification to tourism, far exceed their size.

They are South Africa’s most endangered ecosystems, according to the South African Biodiversity Institute’s 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, the first to assess the country’s wetland systems critically.

The assessment reveals that South Africa has already lost about 50% of its original wetland area, and only 11% of what remains is well protected, while 71% is not protected at all.

“Very few” wetlands are not affected by land use — grazing, cropping, urbanisation and mining — says David Lindley, who manages a joint World Wide Fund for Nature Wildlife Society wetlands programme.

Mining consumes 3% of South Africa’s water. Farming takes the largest slice, about 67%.

Mpumalanga is a prime source of much of South Africa’s water, has much fertile farmland and is one of the world’s richest coalfields. This is why, in a first for South Africa, it was stipulated in Anglo Coal’s mining licence for its Isibonelo Colliery in Mpumalanga’s Kriel area, that it would not only rehabilitate the parts of the Steenkoolspruit wetland it would inevitably damage, but that it would establish a new wetland in the area. The project won Anglo Coal a Nedbank green mining award in 2006.

South Africa is a water-scarce country. It has half the international average rainfall of 800mm a year, and has already allocated more than 95% of its fresh water resources. The National Planning Commission warned in 2011 that South Africa had to pay urgent attention to management of water resources or risk having its development slowed.

Source: DBlive


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