29 September 2020
“The inevitable advent of Day Zero, combined with renewed load shedding, COVID-19 impacts and political and policy uncertainty, will no doubt impact upon regional socio-economic prospects. An urgent effort is required to collectively plan around resource management and water security, in particular, for the Gamtoos Valley and the Eastern Cape as a whole,” says Rienette Colesky, Chief Executive Officer of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) in an interview with Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).
The interview is part of an ongoing climate change debate and interview series, facilitated by the Forum to examine the correlation between some of the nett-effects experienced during COVID-19 and those enforced by climate change. In the interview, Meiring asked Colesky about the relevance and sustainability of resource management in the Eastern Cape.
Says Meiring: “The geographical borders of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) extend close to where the regional footprint of the GIB and the Sarah Baartman District Municipality starts. There are many shared similarities that the respective regions have in common in terms of environmental management, including climate change, in particular drought and changes in rainfall patterns.”
Meiring wanted to know from Colesky what the GIB’s main concerns about climate change and resource management are in going forward.
Says Colesky: “The Gamtoos River community and its socio-economic survival is almost exclusively agro-centric and dependent on what the natural environment gives us. Resource management – water resource management in particular – is vital, not only for the Gamtoos and Kouga region, but it is essential for the Eastern Cape economy and the communities it supports. Water (management) is also a forex generator – it is a critical component of the entire agricultural produce export value chain and forex markets and therefore contributes to the South African economy as a whole.”
Asks Meiring: “The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has now reached Day Zero. Given the extremely vulnerable status of the Kouga dam level, what are your sentiments on the immediate future of the regional water security situation, and the prospects for the farming community that is almost exclusively dependent on water from the Kouga dam, catchment and supply system?”
Says Colesky: “We are basically in uncharted waters with regards to water security and the impact thereof will have a harsh and tangible influence on both the short, medium and long-term prospects of agricultural productivity in the Gamtoos Valley.”
“Compounding the socio-economic situation, over the past few decades we have seen a significant influx of people from destitute Eastern Cape communities into the Gamtoos region in search of work. The influx generates ever-increasing demands on sparse resources, and, as COVID-19 highlighted, poses new economic and social challenges, impacting both directly and indirectly on our mandate and management resources.”
“Over and above our mandated environmental management issues, GIB has taken on a significant number of state-subsidised relief efforts aimed at poverty relief, mostly centralised around environmental rehabilitation work in wetland systems, invasive alien plant management and infrastructure maintenance and improvement.”
Continues Colesky: “We know that the interior and western parts of the GRDM also suffer from almost perpetual drought, and the Gamtoos farming community most certainly is feeling the same pressure, having to resort to adaptive measures to reduce water use, whilst maintaining as high as possible quality production levels.”
“Despite the restrictions imposed on us by nature in the form of a changing climate, especially in terms of severely reduced rainfall in our vital catchments, our farmers’ ability to adapt to the new normal in order to survive has been remarkable thus far.”
Concludes Colesky: “We are deeply concerned about the water security situation in the region as well as what is happening in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, as we are socially and economically closely interlinked and co-dependent on the same resources.”
“An urgent and collective effort in terms of planning around resource management, and water security in particular, from regional, provincial and national levels are required, without which a prosperous future for the Eastern Cape, as a whole, will not be sustainable.”
** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serves as a catalyst to drive climate adaptation practices in the Southern Cape and strives to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.