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Home > Current Highlights  >  Sustainable use of South Africa’s inland waters
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Sustainable use of South Africa’s inland waters

In 1994 South Africa emerged from political isolation and installed its first democratic government. The country’s river scientists emerged from scientific isolation to make a major global contribution to a new science aimed at resuscitating the world’s dying rivers and bringing a more caring balance into the management of those still in good condition. As the incoming government prepared its new water law (National Water Act of 1998 - NWA), the water scientists were ready with their knowledge and vision of sustainability, and so the two strands of history intertwined in ways unimaginable even a few years earlier.

Written by 12 lead authors and 30 contributing authors, the book analyses the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s application of its world-acclaimed NWA. After an initial two background chapters there are six on implementation, which describe how the country has mobilised to balance the demands for water with the need to protect its rivers, wetlands, estuaries and groundwater. The chapters are:

     Part 1: Background

·         Chapter 1            Water supply and demand

·         Chapter 2            Water law in South Africa from 1652 to 1998 and beyond

Part 2: Implementation

·         Chapter 3            Institutional arrangements for protection of aquatic ecosystems

·         Chapter 4            Tools and procedures for Resource Directed Measures

·         Chapter 5            RDM and Basic Human Needs

·         Chapter 6            Knowledge and skills development

·         Chapter 7            Giving effect to Resource Directed Measures

·         Chapter 8            The way forward

The Resource Directed Measures mentioned in the book and chapter titles are three measures recognised in Chapter 3 of the NWA:

1)   A classification of every major water resource in the country as either Management Class 1 (Minimally used), Management Class 2 (Moderately used) or Management Class 3 (Heavily used), through a process of research, stakeholder consultation and negotiation.

2)    A Reserve of water from that water resource for Basic Human Needs and a further Ecological Reserve of water for the ecosystem itself to ensure its continued health and efficient functioning at the agreed Management level.

3)    Resource Quality Objectives, which are measurable targets that can be monitored in order to ensure compliance of the Reserve and Management Class.

The book closes with ten suggested points for action that can bring closer the vision of healthy water resources providing reliable ecosystem services into the future.   

Much has been learnt over the last two decades, much has been achieved and much remains to be achieved. Awareness of the need for sustainable use of inland waters has grown dramatically; mistakes have been made. This book summarises the situation for water professionals both within South Africa and elsewhere, and could provide insights for other countries wishing to tread a similar pathway into the future. Hopefully, it will also inspire young people in training to specialise as aquatic scientists.

Reference:  King, J. and H. Pienaar (eds) 2011. Sustainable use of South Africa’s inland waters: A situation assessment of Resource Directed Measures 12 years after the 1998 National Water Act. Water Research Commission Report No. TT 491/11. Water Research Commission, Pretoria.  259 pp.

Obtainable in hard copy from orders@wrc.org.za.  To download in electronic form go to the WRC website (www.wrc.org.za), click on the Knowledge Hub and enter the report number TT/491.
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