The Paradox of Water

Some rambling thoughts as we approach a long weekend…

Two articles featured in Pietermaritzburg’s The Witness last week on Wednesday 18 April, 2012, on pages 4 and 10 respectively. The Editors Column, on page 10, a considered review and plea for planning in fragile water infrastructure, and I assume, a request for some real investment in protecting our scarce water resources (we need R573 Billion to maintain it!). On Page 4, a report by Rajaa Azzakani on utterances by our esteemed Minister of Environmental and Water Affairs, Edna Molewa, apparent champion of the causes of Environment and Water Affairs. She threatens a declining agricultural sector (with reduced water access in the face of increasing mining and industrial usage) to redirect water usage, at the expense of future food production, for a growing urban population, in an apparent lack of understanding of the value of water to our society.

How does the Minister think we are going to grow food, when we redirect water to urban centres for increasingly inefficient municipalities? Why are we not focussing on urban rainwater harvesting and urban and catchment ecosystem (green) infrastructure maintenance and development? How can we better manage the limited water we have, rather than simply redirecting these scarce resources to inefficient systems within municipalities? I still cannot believe people actually eat the fish they catch in our local Msunduzi River? We can’t even deliver water to households without wasting 600 ml of every litre! This situation is mirrored around our nation. What use is a house when you are starving and cannot drink the water? Urbanisation is a trend that cannot be ignored. Msunduzi is no exception. A proportionately shrinking ratepayer’s pool will not continue to fund inefficiencies.

Paradoxically on page 9, a great article on Conservation Agriculture, featuring Mary Mlambo, and beneath that the notice of the SLIP Fair (sponsored by African Conservation Trust), which aims to highlight sustainable living, water harvesting, and sensible use of our natural resources, with some great stallholders and wonderful films and speakers, and on the same page, in an insert segment, a letter on wedding gifts, reflecting on the new need to be independent of service providers such as Eskom, Umgeni, and Municipalities!  Some great editorial satire!!
So does the solution lie on page 9 provides our solution: A focus on intensive urban agriculture projects (not handing out seedpacks please!), water harvesting and recycling, proper town planning with streets and pathways that channel water into useful productive fields rather than into stormwater drains.

And please do not get me started on Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) something which the honourable Minister and other departments in the SA Government are actually contemplating for our water scarce country as a result of the “job creation potential” and “value to the economic growth energy requirements”. How are we going to grow food with toxic water from fracking and other industrial pursuits? What part of this is difficult to understand? Millions of tons of toxic chemicals injected into a crack in rocks will not contaminate for centuries the drinking water and aquifers in the heartland of SA? What amount of Uranium, Mercury, Radium, Lead, Methanol, Hydrochloric Acid, Formaldehyde and Ethylene Glycol (some of the up to 600 chemicals used in the process) do you want in your water and food?

But back to urban dwelling…Why do we continue to approve urban housing and industrial developments without insisting on sustainable practices? An investment of time into layout and planning at a local level, will alleviate future shocks in poorly planned “townships” and industrial sites. And getting it right means we plan for future environmental solutions rather than engineered concrete. That means less payment to repair future storm damage if ecosystems remain intact. Nature provides perfect engineering models, just open your eyes and let’s not be so arrogant that we believe we can build another dam to solve our problems.

Msunduzi can be a City of the Future, let’s create the City we Deserve and insist on constructive, well designed, sustainable development, rather than development for the sake of development. What kind of City do we want to live in a decade from now?  A water secure, sustainable, healthy, food secure, safe city, or one in which we pay dearly for water and food, because we are flushing our most precious resource into the streets? Our Choice, in our City!

Pop into the SLIP Fair this weekend, 27 to 29 April at the Cattle Arena, Royal Showgrounds to learn and share with the Fresh Film Festival and the Speakers Platform. Thanks to Wildlands Conservation Trust for coming on board. We’re proud to have them as a partner in KZN and its great working with a group of like-minded people with a vision.

Many thanks
Francois

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