Wetland and Water Conservation
in South Africa

<center>Call for water conservation as drought intensifies<br></center>
Call for water conservation as drought intensifies

A Water Crisis

South Africa is in a water crisis. It is already estimated that eight million South Africans currently have no access to potable water. And environmentalists warn that if conservation efforts to better maintain current water sources are not increased, the country may run out of water altogether by 2030.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) considers South Africa to be a water-scarce country, because of the low levels of rainfall most of the country receives. Added to the threat posed by global warming, a high level of poverty which leaves much of the country without access to plumbing or electricity, and an ever-increasing population growth rate, South Africa has to act fast to save the water supply it does have. Its wetlands, if reclaimed and rehabilitated, can help replenish the thirsty nation.

Education Is Key

The future of South Africa and its valuable water sources rely heavily on the education of the public - both those with access to technology, and those without it. As with many African nations, South Africa is a country divided by financial extremes, with striking poverty levels closely tied in to access to education.

The Role of Wetlands

Wetlands serve as natural water conservation tools. With the help of their vegetation, they literally act as sponges, preventing the evaporation of water, particularly during periods of intense African heat. They also serve as natural water filters, adding to the health benefits of the nation's peoples in purifying the water by trapping pollutants, bacteria, and viruses which cause illneses such as dysentery and diarrhea, key problems in African nations.

Wetlands also benefit local peoples with their products - such as timber, fish, and rice. They protect humankind by serving as a natural means of flood control, and they protect the region from erosion. In addition, the wetlands offer offer many recreational and educational benefits. The wetlands of South Africa are also home to a variety of plant and animal life, including some extremely rare and almost extinct species of birds.

But sadly, it is estimated that South Africa has lost 35-60 percent of its wetlands over the past 40 years. Prior to modern scientific understanding of these precious ecosystems, wetlands were often thought of as valueless, or nothing more than mosquito breeding grounds, which would be of better use if developed for agriculture, dams, or buildings. It is now up to environmentalists and conservation-minded individuals to help protect and replenish the diminishing wetlands of South Africa - before it's too late.

So, in addition to the wetlands conservation work of the South African government and its affiliates, some South African individuals are doing their own part to promote education, and practical, culture-friendly conservation.

A Man of Action: Leonard "Len" Abrams

Leonard "Len" Abrams, a South African civil engineer and consultant, established The African Water Page in Johannesburg in December of 1996. The website was "dedicated to the water sector in Africa" and covered issues like water conservation and demand management, water supply and environmental sanitation, as well as various documents on governmental water policy.

For many, this was the first water education resource available to them which focused directly on their own nation's individualized needs and environment. Though it was evident that not all South Africans would have access to electricity, let alone Internet technology, Mr. Abrams pressed forward in his desire to educate the public, knowing that even by educating a handful of people on issues of conservation, great good could be done for the nation and continent. Even if one teacher, on the only computer in one school had access to educational resources on water conservation, wetland preservation, and environmental protection, the knowledge could be shared with entire villages.

Mr. Abrams ran the website on his own for four years until early Spring of 2001 - when, receiving over 170,000 requests a month, it had grown too large for him to handle alone. It was evident that the peoples of South Africa, and the continent of Africa as a whole, were desperate for answers, assistance, and understanding of the water and environmental issues facing their nations. He incorporated the page into simply, The Water Page, "an independent initiative dedicated to the promotion of sustainable water resources management and use." The site gives particular emphasis to the protection and use of water in Africa and other developing regions.

Mr. Leonard used his own knowledge as a civil engineer to create a valuable resource for the peoples of his nation and of the world, in hopes that, through education, water, the essence of life, could be preserved.

"So, is there hope for Africa? I only know what I have seen and the people I have met through a lifetime of working in the water sector in Africa...

Africa (as in any other place in the world) is not made up of a faceless mass of humanity. It is made up of millions of individuals each with a hope of their own, each with a history and a family, a past and a future, fears and joys.

[Another factor is the] quality and commitment of the professionals who I have been privileged to meet and work with across the continent over the years. These are people who have qualified amongst the best in the world, who are prepared to work in their countries for monthly salaries of 200 to 400 dollars (tops). Their dedication and commitment, and often sheer dogged determination in the face of enormous odds, is an inspiration in itself.

I don't know what the "solution" to Africa is - I don't think there is a single solution. I do know, however, that it is far from a hopeless continent. The hope and inspiration lie within the continent itself."

<center>Claire Reid conducted trials for her 'real gardening' concept with the help of the Diepsloot community<br></center>
Claire Reid conducted trials for her 'real gardening' concept with the help of the Diepsloot community

A Schoolgirl Takes on Water Conservation

Claire Reid, a student from Johannesburg, South Africa, captured the attention of the scientific community with her unique ideas on water conservation and agricultural development.

The Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry hosted a competition for schoolchildren to create "an awareness of the importance of water and promote water conservation," and Reid's project was selected. Honored in Sweden for her idea, her "real gardening" concept requires less water than normal gardening and helps people grow vegetables even in dry and dusty arid lands.

"I came up with the idea to help people, especially in less advantaged communities, grow their own food while at the same time saving water and saving money on fertilizers," Reid said.

Her idea could revolutionize agriculture for the arid regions of her home nation, and of the world. She sealed pre-fertilized seeds into long, narrow strips of newspaper. The newspaper allowed the seeds to stay moist, therefore utilizing less water in their planting process. "My method means that the seeds need less water, while the fertiliser and carbon from the paper make sure the seeds grow faster," Reid added. The seed strips are placed into the ground, covered with soil and watered. The strips make gardening nearly flawless even for the most amateur of gardeners, as each seed is at the appropriate distance from one another, and the strips ensure they are planted at the appropriate depth.

Reid's project is being implemented by local charities in needy parts of the country.

Claire Reid's work is living proof that water conservation and environmental protection - as well as the consideration of, and assistance for, needier communities - is very feasible, regardless of age, clout or stature.

Page created on 3/18/2009 12:02:51 PM

Last edited 3/18/2009 12:02:51 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

National Geographic: Water Pressure - asks "How can such a wet planet be so short on clean fresh water?" The feature quotes The Water Page as a major source of information.

Extra Info

Quotes and information on Claire Reid are courtesy of the City of Johannesburg's Official Website.

Joburg learner shines in Sweden
From the City of Johannesburg's Official Website