Category: Climate Change

Garden Route aims to find environmental solutions

In the run-up to its yearly environmental seminar for key stakeholders, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is looking to find lasting solutions for prevailing regional problems and a myriad new challenges in effective environmental management.

For decades authorities and private landowners have been dealing with the same problems, including non-sustainable land-use and land management best practice, increased fire risks and water security issues, a rapid decrease in natural habitat and biodiversity conservation, and compliance with environmental and agricultural legislation.

The Nels River, like many streams and rivers, is badly affected by invasive alien trees and deliver little or no surface water as a result. The state of rivers in the Garden Route interior is vital to rural communities and agricultural sustainability and requires a plan of action from authorities and private landowners to ensure their survival and optimal performance in the supply of freshwater from stressed catchments.

Over time, managing the Southern Cape environment has become exponentially more difficult, with many new challenges, including climate change, major changes in rainfall patterns, unprecedented wildfires, vast population growth and development, invasive alien plant growth and drought.

Finding new solutions and partnerships are vital

In many respects, national government departments are experiencing difficulties in operational respects, including managing their own assets and land, reduced resources, a low skills base, lack of effective communication, a sustained reactive approach or a complete lack of mandated management and compliance with environmental legislation.

In the Southern Cape, the Garden Route District Municipality and its public and private sector partners, though the Garden Route Environmental Forum, aim to play a leading role in taking on environmental challenges and development of partnerships in order to ensure and encourage a cohesive approach to find sustainable solutions.

What kind of solutions should the region be looking for?

According to Cobus Meiring of the GREF Secretariat, a fresh approach to planning around water security is always a good point of departure. Given the persistent drought in the interior regions, centred around towns like Van Wyksdorp, Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Oudtshoorn, the management of invasive alien plants, amongst other factors, is critical.

“As an example, rivers and catchments feeding the Kamanassie and Raubenheimer dams for Oudtshoorn, and the Nels River feeding Calitzdorp, are systems stressed by invasive alien plants and subsequent degradation. These systems require urgent intervention. However, there is still little information available on exactly what the extent of the problems are, and how to address them.”

Meiring continues to say: “National environmental programmes, in particular, the Working for Water Programme, has proven to be unsustainable in effectively dealing with invasive alien plants in catchments and rivers, and is in effect hampering efforts to assist regional landowners to manage invasive alien plants on their land. The model needs to be urgently revised and adapted given the circumstances.”

Planning for climate change

Climate change will have a definite impact on both the present and future generations living in the Garden Route. Exactly what that impact will be in practical terms, we have little understanding of as yet, but we have to explore what the scenario may look like, and plan in accordance,” Meiring says.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) will be looking at what the agricultural production scenario will reflect in two decades from now, what are the vulnerabilities of our coastline given the slight rise in ocean levels, stronger storm surges and floods, fire risk to ever-expanding communities and the rural/ urban interface.

  • The Garden Route Environmental Forum’s seminar and key stakeholder event will take place in the George area on 11 December this year to reflect on regional environmental initiatives and planning ahead for 2020. Mandated by the Garden Route District Municipality, the GREF is the premier environmental platform in the Southern Cape.

** 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.

WEBSITE: http://www.scli.org.za/gref

MEDIA ENQUIRIES
1. Cobus Meiring: Garden Route Environmental Forum Secretariat
Cell: 083 626 7619
Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

2. Dr Nina Viljoen: Manager, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM)
Tel: 044 803 1318; Cell: 067 035 9203
Email: nina@gardenroute.gov.za

3. Herman Pieters: Senior Communication Officer, Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM)
Tel: 044 803 1419
Email: communications@gardenroute.gov.za

Understanding climate change and associated risks to the Southern Cape with the risk of fire looming large in November

“November marks the month when a year ago over 100 000 hectares either side of the Outeniqua mountains burnt to tinder, with several lives lost and millions of rand of damage to infrastructure and grazing, resulting in significant loss of income to the region, as well as precious jobs lost,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).

“Prevailing drought in the northern and western parts of the region, combined with the 2017 Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Stilbaai/ Riversdale/ Vermaaklikheid wildfire disasters, the damage done to the local economy is an enormously difficult and frightening calculation to make. In as much as the fact that the Southern Cape is a popular destination for those choosing to retire, or for holidaymakers and adventurers, the region is in need of new businesses and a healthy agricultural sector,” says Meiring.

“All indications are that the Southern Cape should place a lot more focus on how we prepare our region for a changing climate, and the risks and opportunity it brings with it”.

The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), including the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), continues to explore climate change risks and developments and will be doing a lot more in this regard during the course of 2020 in order to gear up for a challenging and unpredictable environment.

According to Meiring, climate change and continuous fire risks impact in many ways, including a marked reduction in air quality, increased risks in terms of water quality and quantity, lower levels of national and international investment, slow but irreversible loss of biodiversity and a generally lower quality of life for those residing in the area.

“In as much as climate change is clearly irreversible, there is a huge responsibility on both the regional authorities and regional landowners to take ownership of what they can manage and find meaningful ways to work towards a higher quality environment to ensure a better and more sustainable future,” concludes Meiring.

 

Photo: Wildfire – burning plantation

Climate change-related disasters have a very significant impact on the Southern Cape economy and the region is in need of more business investment and healthy and prosperous agricultural and forestry industries. (Photo Credit: Pixaby)

** 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.

** The Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) is a public platform and think tank for landowners and land managers with an interest in invasive alien plant management, water stewardship and land management. SCLI is supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), a subsidiary of WWF SA. SCLI also manages the Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

WEBSITE: http://www.scli.org.za/gref

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Cobus Meiring: Chairperson of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI)

Cell: 083 626 7619; Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Garden Route District Municipality’s Nina Viljoen now “Dr Nina Viljoen”

Nina Viljoen, Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), was on 12 July 2019, conferred a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) qualification at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.

Talking passionately to the Communication and Graphic Design Unit of GRDM regarding the progress of her education over the years, she said: “I progressed from having a Grade 7 (previous standard 5) school qualification at the age of 19, to achieving my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), with specialisation in Water Resources Management”.

Her thesis is titled: “Participative water demand management as an adaptive response within complex socio-institutional systems: A City of Cape Town case study, South Africa’.  However, she admitted that it could not have been done without will power, commitment and true dedication.

Referring back to her Master of Science (MSc) Degree, she explained: “I also focused on water resources management, more specifically alternative water resources, with my dissertation entitled: “The feasibility of rainwater and stormwater harvesting within a winter rainfall climate context: A Commercial Building Focus,” for which I received a Cum Laude recognition”.

Touching on how she persevered with so much at hand, she said:  “At times I had to isolate myself from family issues and had to work over weekends and on public holidays on my thesis. I also participated in Garden Route Environmental Management related initiatives, and attended forums and workshops that took my mind off the strict routine of the PhD studies”, she added. At times when she felt despondent and felt like giving up, these initiatives helped her to get re-energised and motivated again.

Sharing briefly about her childhood years, she said she grew up in a single-parent household.  “I attended 14 primary schools as my family was mostly homeless and moved around a lot. Sadly, due to the psychological and physical impacts of these hardships we faced, I lost my only sibling to suicide”.

Dr Viljoen is adamant that education saved her life and has given her independence. She would like to be a role model to the youth as an example of the importance of education in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and hardship. With regard to her immediate future plans, she concluded:  “With my expertise and experience gained through my PhD studies, I will continue to help the Garden Route district with water resource planning and drought awareness initiatives”.

The Garden Route Annual Fire Commemoration Event, Climate Change & Adaptation Indaba successfully hosted in Wilderness

The Garden Route Annual Fire Commemoration Event, Climate Change & Adaptation Indaba hosted by Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) in collaboration with the South Cape Environmental Forum once again reminded roleplayers about the fire outbreaks of 2017 and 2018 in the Garden Route and the aftermaths and tragic losses as a result of the fires. The Indaba took place on 7 June 2019 at the Wilderness Hotel in Wilderness of which approximately 150 delegates attended.

Garden Route District Municipality was well represented at the event. FLTR are: Dr Nina Viljoen, Cllrs Rowen Spies, Erica Meyer, Thersia van Rensburg, Joslyn Johnson, Mayor Memory Booysen, Daniel Saayman, Mr Gerhard Otto and Deputy Mayor Rosina Ruiters.

Delegates represented organisations and institutions, such as the National Department of Environmental Affairs, the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Stellenbosch University and Nelson Mandela University, as well as GRDM and Knysna Municipality were in attendance.

Various role-players from Government Organisations, Training Institutions, Municipalities and members of the media attended the event. Front (fltr) GRDM Manager:  Disaster Management, Mr Gerhard Otto, Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen and Municipal Manager, Mr Monde Stratu.

The main purpose of the event, was not to only host the Annual Fire Commemoration event, but also to build on the momentum and team effort the region has created in their efforts to recover from the fire, but also to host a Climate Change Indaba, according to Municipal Manager of GRDM, Mr Monde Stratu. In his welcoming address to the attendants, Mr Stratu said: “It is our objective to shape a better prepared, climate- ready and resilient Garden Route environment for our community, and we trust that you will be able to assist us in achieving that ambitious goal”.

Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at GRDM during, her presentation at the event.
Dr Jo Barnes, Epidemiologist and Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Community Health at the Stellenbosch University, spoke about the harsh realities of the impact of climate change on public health systems in the Garden Route.

In referring back to losses and the recovery of losses and damages as a result of the fires, Mr Cobus Meiring, Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) said:  “Recent reports released by Santam and others indicate that the damages incurred by the 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster are very close to three billion rand. For the large insurance companies to arrive at accurate calculations took them a full two years to consolidate all pay-outs and peripheral and associated costs. Three billion rand is a staggering amount of money and is indicative of the kind of damage the fury of nature can incur on civilisation and the environment in a matter of hours. However, when taking into account what best could be described as collateral damage, could be a lot harder to calculate. Take for instance the number of retired folk from Knysna and Plettenberg Bay deciding not to rebuild at all, land becoming vacant for extended periods, formerly employed people now struggling to find new employment opportunities, with employers having decided to move on following the disaster, or even leaving the country as some reportedly did, and suddenly the situation looks even worse than expected,” Meiring said.  It is for these reasons that Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at GRDM described the event as crucial in the way the region is planning ahead with a challenging environment at play.

The event was facilitated by Mr Cobus Meiring, Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Most of the presentations made at the event, placed emphasis on water security, high quality water resources, the living conditions of the communities, sanitation facilities, regrowth of alien vegetation, to name a few. All these factors place a high risk on the state of health of the residents of the area and the economic growth of the Garden Route.   These were furthermore and significantly emphasised by Dr Jo Barnes, Epidemiologist and Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Community Health at the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, when she spoke about the harsh realities of the impact of climate change on public health systems.

GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen, could not ignore the after effects of the fires in his address, when he made an announcement:  “As we pride ourselves as a District Municipality striving to improve the way we manage our environment, the GRDM and our Environmental Forum has secured substantial funding and support from the Fund for the Rebuild of Knysna to assist landowners who were severely affected by the Knysna, and more recent fires, to deal with the scourge of invasive alien plant re-growth”.  In coming to a point where resolutions had to be taken and the way forward was discussed, Mr Gerhard Otto, GRDM Manager for Disaster Management said, “The establishment of the Garden Route Environmental Forum, mandated by the District Municipality and incorporating non-governmental conservation bodies and public platforms, was a first in the Western Cape, and allows for greater cooperation between private landowners and regional and national authorities.”

In conclusion, Otto added that floods and fire in the immediate and foreseeable future can be reduced, but only if those tasked with planning and management understand the issues at play and implement mitigation measures in accordance,” Otto added. “The announcement of a regional public/ private programme to assist landowners who were affected by recent fires and a scourge of invasive alien plant re-growth is a first of its kind in RSA, and further announcements will follow as the initiative reaches implementation stage,” he added.

GRDM is taking proactive steps to deal with climate change

“As the Garden Route commemorates the June 2017 wildfire disaster and prepares to host a Climate Change Indaba, climate change related disasters are on the increase in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“With thousands affected and the regional population traumatised, the June 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster was perhaps one of the most dramatic and destructive events in living memory to hit Southern Africa in general, and the Garden Route in particular.”

“To compound matters, back in June 2017, the Southern Cape was suffering the consequences of a prolonged and severe drought, with areas in the Klein Karoo completely running out of water with economic activity shrinking and agricultural output dropping dramatically.”

“Much of what the environment was suffering can be ascribed to the effects of climate change, and local government is increasingly shifting its focus and efforts towards finding ways to cope with the effects of climate change, ” says Dr Viljoen.  

“However, with the flooding of KwaZulu-Natal and Beira in northern Mozambique, South Africa is not alone in suffering from climate change”, continues Dr Viljoen. Recently United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has been urging the international community to quickly fund emergency aid appeals for Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, saying they have suffered “one of the worst weather-related catastrophes in the history of Africa.”

Guterres said the devastation has affected three million people, nearly two-thirds of them in Mozambique, and “there are reports that $1 billion worth of infrastructure has been destroyed.” Many areas still have no electricity.

The UN chief called Cyclone Idai an “uncommonly fierce and prolonged storm — yet another alarm bell about the dangers of climate change, especially in vulnerable, at-risk countries.”

He said such events are becoming more frequent and devastating, “and this will only get worse if we do not act now.”

Concludes Dr Viljoen, “In a proactive step to deal with climate change, the Garden Route District Municipality is making good progress in the development of the regional Climate Change and Adaptation Strategy Document, and in due course, we will be making more information available”.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) will be hosting the Annual Fire  Commemoration event and Climate Change Indaba on 7 June 2019. More information will be made available on the GREF website https://www.scli.org.za/GREF.

WEBSITE: https://www.scli.org.za/GREF/

** 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.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Dr Nina Viljoen: Manager, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

Tel/Cell: +27 (0)44 803 1318 | +27 (0)67 035 9203

Email: nina@gardenroute.gov.za

 

Destruction of ecological infrastructure worsens the impact of floods

“Failure of ecological infrastructure in KwaZulu-Natal worsens the impact of recent floods, and the Garden Route must learn from the severe disaster,” says Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum.

According to Dr Viljoen, a series of deadly cyclones and high-intensity rainstorms in KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique was such that no matter what, the impact would have resulted in disaster.

“The impact of urban and rural development on the ability of nature in mitigating and managing severe floods and rainstorms, cannot be underestimated. The fact that landowners all over the world want to build their houses as close as possible to rivers and ocean shores exponentially raise the risk of the destruction of their property in the event of flooding and ocean storm surges,” warns Dr Viljoen.

She explains: “Over time we have destroyed our ecological infrastructure enabling nature to cope with heavy rain such as wetlands and seep lines. We have channelled our river systems, and hardened saturation surfaces and water table recharge zones, leaving flood waters to gain unbridled energy and volumes, destroying everything in its path and claiming many lives”.

“Considering the predicated impact of climate change, and an increase in severe weather conditions and possible natural disasters, authorities must be vigilant in planning for expansion, and allowing development in areas that are naturally sensitive and prone to disaster”.

On 7 June this year, the Garden Route District Municipality and the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) will be hosting the 2017 Fire Commemoration event and Climate Change and Adaption Indaba in George.

Environmental and climate change experts will review the overarching research and strategy development that has taken place over the past two years regarding environmental risk reduction in the region, and the physical measures that have been implemented. The indaba will also establish a roadmap of what is planned for the region in the coming months to confront the challenges of climate change readiness.

Interested organisations and individuals who would like to attend the Annual Fire Commemoration event and Climate Change and Adaption Indaba on 7 June, can send an email to janet@papertreeprojects.co.za.

WEBSITE: https://www.scli.org.za/GREF/

** 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.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Dr Nina Viljoen: Manager, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

Tel/Cell: +27 (0)44 803 1318 | +27 (0)67 035 9203

Email: nina@gardenroute.gov.za

Are we better prepared to deal with fire disasters?

“Blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, the Garden Route can be a deadly deceiving place, as the recent wildfire catastrophes and crippling drought proved,” says Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“The one question which we are likely to discuss at the Annual Fire Commemoration event and Climate Change and Adaptation Indaba on 7 June, is if we are now better prepared to deal with a repeat of the 2017 and 2018 fire disasters, or if we are increasingly relying on fire-fighting capacity on the ground and from the air,” says Dr Viljoen.

“In many instances, the very same conditions conducive to set the scene for out of control wildfire, such as regrowth of invasive alien plants which burnt down with the last wildfire, are again a feature on the landscape. Built-up areas in the rural/ urban interface are often still exposed to the build-up of biomass in the landscape, providing ample fuel for runaway wildfire. We do get the sense that communities are often vaguely aware of potential dangers, but are slow to react proactively, therefore we have to focus on investing in a better-informed fire-wise community.”

“Similarly, constant rain during the past weeks and months along the Garden Route creates a false sense of security against drought, but the regional population most certainly must prevail with fresh water conservation measures to permanently reduce consumption, and to accept those measures as a new way of life,” says Dr Viljoen.

More information on the upcoming event will be made available in due course.

WEBSITE: https://www.scli.org.za/GREF/

** 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.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Dr Nina Viljoen: Manager, Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

Tel/Cell: +27 (0)44 803 1318 | +27 (0)67 035 9203

Email: nina@gardenroute.gov.za