History was in the making when 17 organisations came together, for the first time, to commit themselves to the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding was part of the national dialogue on “Ecological Infrastructure and Water Security”.
The purpose of the event was to discuss the role of Ecological Infrastructure in securing South Africa’s water future.
The half-day event was a cross-disciplinary dialogue allowing valuable discussions among government, municipal managers, engineers, economic development, non-governmental organisations and business chambers.
The UEIP aims to foster better collaboration and co-ordination of Ecological Infrastructure investments aimed at improving water security in the greater uMngeni catchment. The UEIP presents an opportunity to tangibly demonstrate the benefits of ecological infrastructure investments and its relevance to the South Africa’s broader water security challenges. Lessons from this catchment can then be replicated in other areas of strategic significance in the country.
After signing the MoU, three pilot projects were launched that contribute to the shared vision of UEIP, namely the Palmiet River Rehabilitation Project, Bayne’ Spruit Rehabilitation Project, and Save the Midmar Dam Project. Through these pilot projects, ecological infrastructure will be restored, maintained and managed to deliver the services and a suite of additional benefits such as job creation, improved agricultural productivity, improved landscape, securing cultural benefits, reduced flood damage and increased adaptive capacity to climate change impacts, all of which increase the return on investment.
Emphasising the importance of ecological infrastructure in trying to explore new solutions for water security and service delivery, Neil Macleod, eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality: Head of Water and Sanitation Unit and civil engineer by profession says “engineering solutions to water security cannot solve all the problems". He explains that there are limits to and breaking points in what we can build, but “nature builds things that naturally rehabilitate”. We need to give nature a chance to work for us, which requires we “spend money on the environment to get benefits to people”, says Mr Macleod.
Adding to the sentiment, uMgungundlovu Municipality’s Municipal Manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo says “we need to do more about maintenance [of built and ecological infrastructure] in order to ensure that the services we provide are dependable" and investing in ecological infrastructure is an important part of that. This requires taking a longer term view, to address the broader picture of water security. This is the challenge “because we're under pressure to deliver now” says Mr Khuzwayo who goes on to say that “you don’t need to be an engineer or environmentalist to benefit from ecological infrastructure; it is natural and inclusive - which is something we need in the municipality”.
“We need to understand municipalities and understand where they come from, speak their lingo and understand their priorities” says Khuzwayo. The concept of ecological infrastructure helps us do this – we’re speaking about jobs and service delivery. We’re not isolating issues municipalities are concerned about. This has been one of the big successes for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) says Kristal Maze, SANBI Chief Director of Biodiversity Planning and Policy Advice and , “through ecological infrastructure we feel we have been able to bridge the communication of the benefits of nature, and we’re using site demonstrations of how investing in ecological infrastructure delivers benefits.”
The event was organised by SANBI’s Grasslands Programme and over 100 people attended. The dialogue took place at uMngeni River Estuary Green Hub in Durban on 20 November 2013.