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DEA celebrates 20 years of Working for Water

DEA celebrates 20 years of Working for Water

Oct 29, 2015

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) Working for Water (WfW) Programme, today officially celebrated 20 years of existence. The programme came into existence on 16 October 1995. Today’s celebration in Villiersdorp, Western Cape, took place in the same vicinity where the initial work started, showcasing the gains that have been made since then and involving those participants that have been part of the amazing journey over the years.

The WfW Programme has seen phenomenal growth over the last 20 years and has been transformed into the Working for programmes. These include Working on Fire, Working for Wetlands, Working for Ecosystems, Working for Forests and Eco Furniture Programmes, which have succeeded in mainstreaming ecological restoration into the employment and rural development debates.

The Working for Water programme represented a unique public employment conservation initiative at the time particularly in the Overberg area where the first invasive alien tree was cut, by the then Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, the late Professor Kader Asmal.  This signified the beginning of a concerted effort by government to address poverty and unemployment through addressing key issues of environmental degradation.

Professor Kader Asmal launched the programme in 1995, as a multi-departmental programme with a budget of R25 million.  The programme has since seen remarkable growth, it has also given job opportunities to unemployed people – over 55,000 in the last financial year.

Initially, the primary focus of WfW was purely on the management of invasive species known to have negative impacts on streamflow.  It was soon realised that WfW cannot operate in isolation. When invasive alien plants are cleared from riparian zones and wetlands there may still be an imperative for the restoration of the cleared area to improve water purification and retention, and ultimately to improve dry season flows.

Since the inception of the WfW programme in 1995, the family of Natural Resource Programmes have together created more than 227 100 person years of employment across South Africa.   The programmes grew from just over 6 100 employment opportunities to more than 50 000 on average over the last three years.  For the last three years, consistently just over half of these were female and more than 60% were younger than 35 years of age.

There has been a specific focus on the most marginalised within society. The Working for programmes is possibly the only programmes to target opportunities for military veterans and for parolees, and there have been ongoing attempts to seek to optimise the programmes’ social development relevance.

To date some 2.8 million hectares of invasive alien plants have been treated. Invasive alien plants cover some twenty million hectares of South Africa to a lesser or greater extent.  If compressed to 100% density, invasive alien plants would cover around 1.9 million hectares, an area bigger than the Gauteng Province or the Kruger National Park.  Although on the surface it looks as if WfW is making progress, research has shown that invasive alien plants may be spreading by between 7.4% and 15.6% (depending upon species), necessitating additional investment.

WfW is investing around R50 million of its annual budget in biological control – seeking to introduce host-specific enemies (e.g. fungi, insects) of the invasive plants.  Biocontrol can drastically reduce seed production and in some cases even kill its host species.

South Africa has a number of socio-economic challenges, arguably the most challenging amongst these would include unemployment, safety and security, education, health, rural development and water and energy security.  The Natural Resource Management programmes contribute primarily to unemployment, rural development and water security, but certainly have the potential to make more tangible contributions to primary health, water quality of run-of-river water extractions in rural areas, education and energy.

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