News

South Africa Water Project Clears Water-Guzzling Alien Plant Infestations

Southern African wetlands and river systems are key to the water security of this arid region but they are severely threatened by invasive alien vegetation which sucks rivers dry, clogs up wetlands, and crowds out indigenous plants and wildlife. South Africa has launched a unique program called "Working for Water" which has created tens of thousands of job in a country beset by high unemployment and which has been very successful in dealing with the problem..

It is a tiny stream, barely more than a trickle, but after decades water is flowing regularly again in the Braamfontein Spruit. The river rises in downtown Johannesburg and gently meanders northwest before emptying into the Hartebeespoort Dam 80 kilometers away.

The Braamfontein is typical of many river systems in Southern Africa which are the lifeblood of water security in the region but which are threatened by infestations of alien vegetation. For years now its path has been defined in the landscape by ever-increasing numbers of Australian eucalyptus with its heavy leaves and tall branches that suck up 70 percent more water than the drought resistant, spreading canopies of African acacia.

The eucalyptus was imported to South Africa in the late 19th century to grow for props in gold mines. Other alien plants have been brought in for a particular purpose and then allowed to spread uncontrolled, while still others have been brought in by landscapers and plant developers.

Concilense Sambo, Gauteng area manager for Working for Water, says alien plants require the same high levels of water throughout the year.

"Mostly with exotic plants, like gum trees [eucalyptus] and so on, they are mostly evergreen, so they suck water from the ground - depending on the size of the tree from 80 liters a day to 200 hundred liters a day, depending on the size of the tree," said Concilense Sambo.

Mr. Sambo says that in addition to using more water, alien plants such as eucalyptus are often allelopathic, that is they kill off surrounding plant life by releasing a chemical into the soil to which local plants have no resistance.

He says research has shown that as a result the impact of alien plant infestations is dramatic and can, in as little as twenty years, reduce the flow in a river system by 74 percent. The impact on wetlands is equally devastating - they dry up and become tinder boxes, thus preventing them from performing their role in containing the natural fires which are common to the region and essential needed for the regeneration of some plant species.

In addition healthy wetlands are like giant sponges, soaking up water in years of abundant rain and releasing it in years of drought. Because of their ability to absorb and contain huge quantities of water, when healthy they also help prevent flooding. However, when they are compromised by alien plants and fire, they can no longer perform this role.

Experts say the impact of the 2000 floods in Mozambique which claimed over 100 lives and rendered over 100,000 people homeless, would have been far less if the upstream wetlands of the Limpopo river and its tributaries in neighboring South Africa had been healthy.

Southern Africa is a predominantly arid region, with an uneven distribution of rivers and wetlands. Rainfall too varies greatly - with the northern parts of the region averaging between 1,000 to 4,000 millimeters; and, the southern parts less than 1,000 to as low as 50 millimeters a year.

And those areas with less rainfall are also more prone to drought - on average experiencing two or more years of drought in every cycle of eight years. Healthy river systems and wetlands help mitigate the impact of drought.

In South Africa, the Working for Water project cleared nearly 200,000 hectares of alien plant infestations in the year ending in February 2004. In the same period, the project did follow-up clearing in nearly 600,000 hectares. In addition to the Braamfontein Spruit water flow has begun or is improved in several other river systems; and some wetlands such as that at Leeukop near Johannesburg have been restored.

Southern Africa is also beset with unemployment, poverty and shortage of skills. South Africa's Working for Water project targets these challenges while working to restore river systems and wetlands. The project has directly created nearly 33,000 jobs among the previously unemployed; it has also benefited communities indirectly by providing firewood, building materials and wood for sculptors and landscapers.

But for people like Charles Shogolo, a team leader on the Braamfontein Spruit project, his job has meant that a family of eight with no breadwinner, is now hopeful about the future.

"I am starting on this project from the year 2000 - so even I'm start from 2000 my life is changed for this project," said Charles Shogolo. "My family is getting some food for eat, and so since I'm start from that time, 2000 my life is changing, I'm living all right, even my family.

"Working for Water" also arranges for its employees to learn new skills as diverse as catchment area management to first aid and safety. For some, such as 52-year-old Beatrice Mbanya Working for Water has been life changing. Speaking in Zulu she told a visitor to the project that she has now acquired one of the most basic skills of all

"When I joined this program I didn't know how to write and now I can write," said Beatrice Mbanya.

Zakes Mokoena is the project manager for the Braamfontein and Jukskei projects around Johannesburg, overseeing 11 teams. He says Working for Water has brought an understanding about water and the environment to all of its employees, himself included.

"So I never thought of any water scarcity or anything, or about the environment whatsoever because I only walk into the streets and there is a nice place and I just walk to get from point A to B; but I never thought of any invasive plants species or water security as problem. I never thought of those things," said Zakes Mokoena.

It is a knowledge that he and others in the project can share with their families and friends - many who are learning for the first time that protecting the environment and scarce water resources is important for their own long term survival and that simple changes in their own lifestyles can also make a difference.

All photos by VOA's Delia Robertson

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs