By Mpofu Sthandile

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is convening the country’s catchment community to take part in its third Catchment-based Indaba on Ecological Infrastructure from 1 to 3 November 2022 at Hoedspruit in the Olifants River catchment. This catchment, known for its rich diversity in plant species and ecosystems as a result of the significant rainfall it collects, currently faces threats to its biodiversity.

Water quality is a major challenge in the Olifants River catchment, because large areas have been substantially modified and transformed through extractive land-use practices such as mining and agriculture. This often leads to compromised ecosystem services and affects the livelihoods of people reliant on the catchment.

SANBI has been working with partners on two important initiatives, the Living Catchments Project and the Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security project, to address water security challenges in the uThukela, uMzimvubu, Olifants, uMngeni and Berg-Breede catchments, which have been identified as strategic water source areas (SWSAs). 

“South Africa is a water-scarce country and ensuring that we have water that is safe for consumption requires a combined effort by municipalities, communities and industry,” according to deputy director of biodiversity mainstreaming at SANBI, Dan’sile Cindi. “We hope to see innovative, community-led solutions emerge over the next few days at this indaba in our efforts to manage critical catchments to ensure water security in the country.”

Healthy ecosystems are essential for water security, and healthy catchments can play a key role in building landscape resilience through protecting biodiversity. The protection of functioning ecosystems results in access to clean drinking water, and this is important in restoring the dignity of people and the natural environment.

Ensuring that naturally functioning ecosystems continue to deliver valuable services to people is essential.

Under the theme, “Mati ya hina – ku tirha swin’we kuhlayisa mati; Meetse a rena – Go s ̌oma mmogo bakeng sa polokego ya metsi” (“Our water – working together for water security”), individuals representing various partner organisations will take part in a packed programme that will involve multiple field trips, exposure to sustainable land-use practices, finding innovative ways to better manage SWSAs, showcasing partnership landscape initiatives that have the potential to unlock finance mechanisms, and exploring the use of restoration technologies and built infrastructure that create jobs, as well as creative offerings such as video screenings and live entertainment.

This third Catchment-based Indaba presents an opportunity to proactively engage with stakeholders, such as young people who will be asked to share their conservation stories. It is also an opportunity to showcase the importance of citizen science as a tool to enhance public participation in catchment work.

A gathering of catchment custodians is significant, because through their collective efforts, the various custodians continue to demonstrate the interconnection between science, policy and implementation, and the intricacies of working across this interface.

This event forms part of the Water Research Commission-funded Living Catchments Project, which is aimed at enhancing research, development and innovation for socio-economic impact in key catchments associated with the SWSAs in the country.

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