The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) recently hosted a gathering of high level water and biodiversity stakeholders from government, municipalities and civil society which culminated in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by 16 founding partners to form the Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). The Ecological Infrastructure and Water Security Dialogue was held on the 25th of November 2013 at the uMngeni River Estuary Green Hub in Durban with key role players including SANBI, eThekwini Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Department, KZN Regional Office of the Department of Water Affairs, Umgeni Water, and Water Service Authorities of the uMgungundlovu District and Msunduzi Local Municipalities. These key stakeholders established the partnership to promote better collaboration and co-ordination of ecological infrastructure investments for the development of water security in the greater uMngeni catchment.
Benefits of Ecological Infrastructure
Ecological infrastructure is defined by SANBI as the “naturally functioning ecosystems that produce and deliver services that are of value to society – fresh water, climate regulation, soil formation and disaster risk reduction” and is “the nature-based equivalent of built infrastructure…equally important for providing services and underpinning socio-economic development”. SANBI points out that because natural infrastructure is free, it is under-valued as it is and thus not fully appreciated or invested in.
Neil Macleod, Head of eThekwini Municipality’s Water & Sanitation Unit explains that the current demand for water is beyond the available supply in the uMngeni catchment and that the restoration of ecological infrastructure can enhance the efficiency of the engineering solutions that have been implemented. “…engineering solutions to water security cannot solve all the problems…There are limits to what we can build, but nature builds things that naturally rehabilitate. We need to give nature a chance to work for us. Through management and restoration of ecological infrastructure in the catchment we will enhance the efficiency of the engineering investments and deliver the benefits to our citizens.”
Sibusiso Khuzwayo , Municipal Manager of the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, explains that municipalities find it difficult to see the long-term view for sustainable service delivery as there is a political pressure to ‘deliver immediately’. He points out that the priorities of municipalities with regards to jobs and service delivery need to be better understood in conjunction with the concept of ecological infrastructure and states that “there will be challenges, but we need to do more about maintenance, and investing in ecological infrastructure.”
Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership
The Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership provides a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst stakeholders which is key in materialising tangible benefits in the future. Kristal Maze, Chief Director of Biodiversity Planning and Policy Advice at SANBI, considers UEIP to be one of the largest successes for SANBI. She states “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”. She states further that the “concept and understanding of ecological infrastructure has gone completely viral and has had a very good uptake” as it “speaks to the core of the National Development Policy.” The lessons learnt at the uMngeni catchment through this partnership will be used in other key areas of significance in South Africa. Mahlodi Tau, Ecological Infrastructure Coordinator at SANBI who attended the event stated, “it’s an important day to reach out to engineers, town planners, decision-makers and disaster-management practitioners, to recognise the role of ecological infrastructure in meeting water security and sanitation challenges in the country. “ Maze added that “This partnership gives us an incredible opportunity to work collectively towards a shared vision and we are excited at the prospects”.
Initial Signatories to the UEIP are:
- NGOs: WWF-SA; Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT); Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT); WESSA; Wildlands
- Local Government: eThekwini Municipality; uMgungundlovu District Municipality; Msunduzi Local Municipality
- Private Companies: SAPPI; MONDI; Msinsi Holdings
- Statutory Bodies & Research Institutions: KZN-Wildlife; SANBI; Umgeni Water; University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN); Water Research Council (WRC)
- Government Departments: KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs