Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti and South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) chairperson Nana Magomola on Thursday launched the R90-million Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security project, in Johannesburg.
The project is aimed at transforming the way people think about, value and invest in water and ecosystems, and aims to increase investment in the management of ecological infrastructure.
The project is backed by a five-year investment from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Development Bank of Southern Africa is the project implementing agent for the GEF in South Africa and Sanbi is the project executing agency.
Speaking at the launch, Magomola said that the project represented a collaboration whereby various South African institutions were providing enabling conditions for the country to harness resources that contribute to its development agenda.
“Investment in infrastructure in South Africa is critical to economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation; however, South Africa is only investing half of the targeted 10% of gross domestic product in infrastructure, which highlights the need for alternative approaches to development,” she said.
At the core of this programme, Magomola stated, was the drive to find innovative ways to mainstream the financing of biodiversity and ecosystem services towards ensuring water security.
The project will work with public and private financial mechanisms to link catchment rehabilitation and maintenance with ongoing revenue streams outside of donor investments and public sector works programmes.
“We need to ensure that budgets for catchment management are secured through the water tariff and that the financing of infrastructure development includes budgets for associated impact and dependencies on ecological infrastructure,” she said.
Magomola added that engineering solutions alone were too costly, and, in some cases, technologically too demanding, to deliver the level of development and service that is required.
“The challenge, reinforced in our global agreements, such as the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, as well as South Africa’s National Development Plan, is for development that is sustainable and that supports the transition to a green economy,” she noted.
Magomola highlighted that this required collaboration between the public and private sectors, including finance institutions, to "internalise externalities" and integrate the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels.
“It also requires opening new markets in ecosystem services for private sector investment,” she said.
Designed in close consultation with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), the project will support the implementation of the National Water Resource Strategy and it is included as part of the Call to Action in the draft Water and Sanitation Master Plan.
Project implementation will be through a suite of partnerships involving several other public, private and civil society organisations, such as the DWS, the Water Research Commission and the World Wildlife Fund South Africa.
Speaking to Engineering News Online at the launch, Nkwinti said that stakeholder collaboration was key to the success of the project.
“Working together is important, it is going to be key towards what the project is going to achieve. The different sectors and stakeholders that are involved in this project need to come together to ensure its successful outcome,” he said.
He stressed that the Department of Mineral Resources should be included in these types of water projects, because the state of acid mine drainage (AMD) in the country was at a critical level, adding that the DWS has budgeted R200-million for the purification of AMD.
“South Africa, as a water scarce country, can ill afford to throw water away,” Nkwinti said.