The bulk of the South African population belongs to this category where environmental protection is of least concern.
This is the view of Group for Environmental Monitoring (Gem) director Dr Quentin Espey.
Gem is a sustainable development and environmental justice nongovern-mental organisation (NGO) that has been involved in community and policy development in South Africa for the last ten years.
Espey says Gem seeks to strike a balance between financial benefits for people and environmental protection.
The organisation is involved in rural ecotourism development projects where it is facilitating economic development for poor rural communities, which, in turn, look after the environment as it is their source of income.
Espey reports that Gem will soon embark on an urban community waste-management project, which will focus on waste-management problems in townships and informal settlements.
“In urban areas our aim is to work with communities on the prevention of waste and air pollution, which has a direct effect on these communities’ health,” Espey says.
Gem is registered as a trust under South African law but also works all over the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as on other continents.
Espey, who is also chairperson of the SADC NGO Water Forum, says South African industry is not doing much to reverse the environmental degradation it has caused and continues to cause.
He notes, however, that, in the corporate sector, there is growing pressure coming from international companies, especially those who have subsidiaries in South Africa.
“This is because inter-national law regarding environmental protection is much stricter,” he states.
Espey believes South African companies do not have their hearts in environ-mental protection because it costs them money.
“Smaller companies are the ones that struggle most to comply with international environmental protection standards, hence the duty of environmental activists is to encourage these companies to invest in cleaner technology that can save them money,” Espey says. The organisation is also involved in formulating environmental policies in South Africa.
“We strive to multiply the benefits of our experiences through national and international policy processes,” Espey points out.
He notes that the environment in South Africa is in a serious state, and calls for immediate action to be taken.
Degraded land, air pollution and polluted river systems are some of the most serious problems that have to be stopped, with immediate effect, he says. “Reversing existing damage is the most critical aspect in trying to remediate the environment, by implementing and upholding responsible environmental pro-grammes such as the land care pro-grammes,” Espey states.
He believes that water and air can be made pure by putting in place and enforcing standards regulating the industry. Land remediation is the greatest challenge.
Espey points to the refining industry for polluting the air and failing to manage its waste, together with the mining industry for failing to properly manage its slimes dams and mine dumps, as being the biggest contributors to environmental degradation in South Africa.
The agriculture industry has also created and continues to create environmental problems such as soil erosion, he says.
Espey raises concerns about the approach of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to promote voluntary agreements with industry through environmental man-agement and cooperation agree-ments.
“South Africa needs compulsory enforcement of its good policies and legislations, so as to avoid further negative impact on the environment,” he emphasises.