Author: Marlene Nqumse

Environmental management is key to the Garden Route future

15 January 2019

“At the launch of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), launched in December 2018 in Mossel Bay, the event programme was packed by national and regional environmental scientists and specialists,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) Secretariat.

Addressing various subjects relevant to the Garden Route environment, there was a common thread throughout all the presentations, namely that unless we take note of the various factors changing our environment, and plan well ahead in accordance, we are heading for an uncertain future.

Poor in infrastructure and resources, including fresh water, the Garden Route is not suitable nor capable of sustaining large populations.

Climate change is partly to blame for the drying out of the western and northern parts of the Garden Route, and the demise of agriculture in badly-affected areas are real and seemingly irreversible, as farmers and those dependent on making a living off the land are forced to make a new start elsewhere.

“Compounding the situation, over the past two decades we saw exponential growth in regional population, as well as a steady increase in tourists and holidaymakers,” says Meiring.

The steady economic demise of the Eastern Cape is not doing the Southern and Western Cape any favours as rural populations move south in the hope of finding a better life.

Cities such as East London and Nelson Mandela Bay are much better suited to accommodate vast populations in coming years, but continued political uncertainty, regional mismanagement and failure to increase economic growth options leave rural communities no choice but to leave the province.

According to Meiring, migration to cities is a worldwide phenomenon, and the RSA Government is well aware of the challenges lying ahead in managing the seemingly non-reversible trend. 

“True to RSA politics, the national discourse does not recognise the imminent dangers to the population brought about by climate change and urban migration, and the inability of the government to plan for, and address the demands of the future, is alarming.”

“Enhanced populist policies, increased racial tension and economic divisions are drawing attention away from ensuring a resilient environment where the RSA population may stand a better chance for survival.”

As a mere example, by allowing the implosion of raw sewage management systems feeding into the Vaal River, and the resultant demise of freshwater systems, including exponential growth rates of invasive alien plants in catchments, will no doubt impact on the ability of Gauteng to sustain its burgeoning population.

Similarly, the Garden Route population must realise the value of its natural resources and the importance of the protection and management thereof. Ensuring that mountain catchments, rivers and seep lines are clear of invasive alien forests depleting freshwater resources and posing severe fire risks, are perhaps the most important environmental management challenge.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) was launched on 11 December 2018. GREF is an environmental coordinating body, mandated by the Garden Route District Municipality.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.



Cobus Meiring: Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619


GRDM’s Climate Change Team visits the Klein Karoo Sustainable Dry lands Permaculture Project

Ms Alex Kruger is explaining to the group the different types of natural clay that can be used as building material.

The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) is committed to investigating adaptive climate change initiatives and successes. It is for this reason that the climate change team late last year visited the Berg-en-Dal Farm in Ladismith, which is the home of the Klein Karoo Sustainable Dry lands Permaculture Project (KKSDPP), founded in 1999. During the visit, the municipality’s climate change team was taken on an interactive and eye opening tour by Ms Alex Kruger, who passionately explained each step of their many diverse examples of sustainable climate change adaptation and mitigation examples. The KKSDPP provides a dynamic training environment on the concept of permaculture and its positive impacts on environmental sustainability within an uncertain future. The project team is providing working examples of a wide range of natural building approaches, waste and water recycling, sustainable energy generation and food production, amongst others, to illustrate climate change adaptation and mitigation as part of a sensitive yet dynamic socio-ecological system.

The severe and disastrous impacts of climate change calls for Municipalities to think differently about adaptation. Climate change is no longer a hypothetical future possibility, but an inescapable fact of everyday life. As climatologists become more certain about human effects on global atmospheric composition and their consequences, extreme weather events become ever more common and slower trends such as sea level rises and changes in seasonal weather patterns continue. The most recent summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reaches some stark conclusions. It predicts, with high levels of certainty, continued rises in global mean surface temperatures if greenhouse gas emissions are not abated, and alongside this, greater and more frequent extremes of heat, global increases in precipitation, and continued loss of Arctic sea ice. It also suggests that continued changes in many aspects of global climate systems are likely even if temperatures stabilise, and raises the possibility of abrupt shifts in some of these. As our understanding of the significance of climate change deepens, the view that responses will involve a transformation in human relationships with nature becomes increasingly widespread. It is an invitation to re-assess humanity’s place in the world, and to transform global society in ways that allow our continued survival. The concept of permaculture originated in just such a re-assessment, and has become a significant impetus for such a transformation.

Permaculture is the conscious design of human living environments that are reflections of the ecological principle that underlies nature. It includes a diversity of concepts, knowledge, strategies, tools, techniques and practices that are reshaping the world and providing compelling visions of what is possible. The permaculture principles are clear examples of how we can restructure, regenerate, restore, and renew, as part of the necessary tools for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

The KKSDPP is offering a wide diversity of services, courses, events and consultations to the public. They form a dynamic component of a network of permaculture and alternative living practitioners and organisations that spans the globe. The Garden Route District municipality appreciated this new and refreshing view of climate change adaptation – one that is exciting, inspiring, and engaging, and one that calls on us to step up to the adaptive challenge of climate change adaptation.

For more information on the KKSDPP or their various courses and initiatives on offer, please contact Ms Alex Kruger at or 072 241 1514.  

Ms Nina Viljoen Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation
Tel: +27 (0)44 803 1318 | +27 (0)67 035 9203

The risk of using sewage effluent for irrigation purposes


Although sewage effluent contains high levels of essential plant nutrients and minerals that stimulate growth, the use of effluent however also poses several short-and long-term health threats to the user. Effluent is mostly applied for irrigation during dry seasons with rapid evaporation of water, leaving behind high concentrations of non-biodegradable chemicals, which gradually drain into the groundwater and remain active for long periods of time, rendering it unfit for use.

The practice of re-using treated sewage effluent in times of great water scarcity and drought conditions is recognised internationally. This is mainly evident in the agricultural sector where sewage is diverted for irrigation of crops, orchards or even on recreational sport fields. This practice has now been extended to the irrigation of local household gardens. Local entrepreneurs are exploring this trade of distribution of sewage effluent. With the current water scarcity situation, this trade may be seen as an alternative water source as opposed to fresh water from the municipal distribution system. Section 24 of the CONSTITUTION OF REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA, (ACT NO. 108 OF 1996), states that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.

Relative health risk from sewage effluent usage

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are significant health implications associated with the use of sewage for irrigation. These “sewage chemicals” contain domestic, industrial, pharmaceutical and hospital waste discharges. The following chemicals may typically be found: salts, minerals, heavy metals, pesticide residues and synthetic compounds such as disinfection by-products, pharmaceutically active chemicals such as endocrine disrupters and various acids. Some chemicals, for example, bromodichloro-methane, may be associated with miscarriages in women, while heavy metals may accumulate in the leaves or roots of many vegetables, posing risks to human health when consumed.

Furthermore, sewage effluent (especially when inadequately treated) also contains high levels of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, of which the majority may pose a serious health threat after exposure/ingestion. Bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella, Clostridium, several strains of Eschericia coli, and Vibrio cholera, as well as entero-viruses such as polio-, echo and coxsackie viruses are recognised human pathogens. Parasites or their microscopic ova, such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and bilharzia are commonly found. The majority of these micro-organisms have the ability to remain viable and infective for periods up to 30 days and some even as long as several months.

While the reuse of sewage effluent seems to be sensible in times of water scarcity and may even look good as a long term solution, contact exposure to this water source or soil and plants or irrigated playgrounds and lawns may pose a serious health risk to keen gardeners and recreational sport field users. Symptoms may include diarrhoea, fever, generalised infections, infections of skin abrasions, malnutrition from worm infestation, to more serious long term effects from ingestion of aforementioned chemicals and heavy metals. Whilst the serious water shortage in the Garden Route region is recognised, the continued use of sewage effluent as source of irrigation for household gardens and crops is not recommended.

Please contact the Municipal Health Section of the Garden Route District Municipality for further information at 044- 803 1300.