Water on the run
Water is perhaps South Africa’s most critical resource – one of low abundance and growing needs. Tie that With problems of increased land use and population growth and you have several big reasons for concern.
Lack of water
South Africa’s freshwater supply is almost stretched to its limit. Less than 10% of South Africa’s rainfall is available as surface water, one of the lowest conversion ratios in the world. The country’s groundwater resources are equally limited.
Despite regulations of river waters, in many catchments the need for water exceeds the supply and quality is often below standards. Given the projected growth in population and economic development, South Africa faces tough times in meeting water demands in the decades ahead.
The shortfall in freshwater is tied to growing demands, but also to other issues such as loss of natural habitat and potentially climate change.
Destruction of natural habitats
The land of the “fine-leaved plants”, the South African Fynbos, is one of the world’s most impressive botanical kingdoms – a mind-boggling variety of plants that is richer than any other comparable sized area in Africa. An estimated 8,500 species of vascular plants, of which 70% are endemic (they are found nowhere else in the world), are reported here.
But because the area has been heavily settled for several centuries, large swathes of natural vegetation, particularly in the lowlands, have been cleared for agriculture and urban development.
Similar problems face the Namib-Karoo-Kaokeveld desert, a very distinctive and floristically rich ecoregion with highly diverse endemic plant communities. Here, poor land management, conversion of marginal lands for cultivation, dam construction, mining, and illegal extraction of selected succulents for black market trade, pose a suite of threats.
Along the West Coast of South Africa, there is persistent overharvesting of many commercially valuable species and products such as pilchard, anchovy and rock lobster. Further at sea, some fish stocks have been over-harvested, and several species face local extinction.
These dangerous trends follow improvements of fishing methods, increase in fishing effort and the establishment of fishing industries.
Introduction of exotic species
South Africa’s natural habitats are being colonized by alien species at great rates. Introduced species, particularly North American gamefishes such as largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, are pushing out indigenous species and threaten to lead some of them to extinction.
A high level of traffic associated with crude oil transport from the Arabian Gulf has resulted in contamination from tankers’ spills and discharge of polluted ballast waters.
South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. State of the Environment. Accessed on May 28, 2007.
UNEP. Country Environmental Profile Information System: South Africa. Accessed on May 28, 2007.
Wikipedia. South Africa. Accessed on May 26, 2007