Water Wise: Caught Between a Rock and a Wet Place | Business Media MAGS

Written by  Monday, 29 June 2020 19:05
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By: Nelendhre Moodley | original article here.

Following poor water control measures over the years, South Africa now finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place as its dire water situation continues to worsen. Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu recently launched South Africa’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan – but is the plan too little too late? Infrastructure recently caught up with the Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s CEO Mariette Liefferink for a view on exactly how severe South Africa’s water challenges really are and whether the country will be able to meet its sustainable development goals in relation to water by 2030.

Citing the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan’s Call to Action launched in November 2019, Liefferink says the document highlighted South Africa’s shocking water situation, with 56% of wastewater treatment works and 44% of water treatment works reported as being in a poor or critical condition, with 11% dysfunctional.

“More than 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have been lost, and of those that remain, 33% are in poor ecological condition. Furthermore, between 1999 and 2011 the extent of main rivers in South Africa classified as having a poor ecological condition increased by 500%, with some rivers pushed beyond the point of recovery. In addition, municipalities are losing about 1 660 million cubed metres per year through non-revenue water – this includes all water supplied that isn’t paid for, including physical water losses through leaks in the distribution system, illegal connections, unbilled consumption and billed, but unpaid, water use. At a unit cost of R6/m3 this amounts to R9.9-billion each year.”

Added to this are the delays in the implementation of Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (to augment the Vaal River System for greater Gauteng), the uMkhomazi Water Project Phase 1 (to augment the Mgeni System for the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal Metropolitan Area) and the augmentation of the Western Cape Water Supply System, which have significantly impacted on water security, and subsequently on the socio-economies of the areas.

“If demand continues to grow at current levels, the deficit between water supply and demand could be between 2.7 and 3.8 billion m3/a by 2030, a gap of about 17% of available surface and groundwater,” notes Lifferink.

Given the severity of South Africa’s water challenges, the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan called for the following interventions:

  • Revitalisation of the Green, Blue and No Drop programmes and the publication of results annually.
  • Identification and prosecution of major non-compliant abstractors (water thieves) across the country, with a national communication campaign to accompany the action by 2020.
  • Identifying and prosecution of big polluters across the country (including municipalities), with a national communication campaign to accompany the action by 2020.
  • Declaration of strategic water source areas and critical groundwater recharge areas and aquatic ecosystems recognised as threatened or sensitive as protected areas by 2021.
  • Review and promulgation of aggressive restrictions within the legislation to restore and protect ecological infrastructure by 2020.
  • Secure funds for restoration and ongoing maintenance of ecological infrastructure through operationalising the water pricing strategy annually.
  • Establishing financially sustainable Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) across the country, and transferring staff and budget and delegated functions, including licensing of water use and monitoring and evaluation of water resources by 2020.
  • Establishment of a National Water Resources and Services Authority and Regulator by 2020.

“Although government had planned to have these measures in place, at the time of writing the FSE was not aware that any progress had been achieved on the targeted areas,” says Liefferink. “We hope that the impact of the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan will be delivered through action, and through the recognition that ‘you cannot drink paper plans’.”

Given the depth of South Africa’s water challenges, is there a chance of meeting its sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

In 2015, South Africa committed to adopt the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including Sustainable Development Goal 6 which aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Included in the SDG report, says Liefferink, is target 6.3 which is focused on improving water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and reuse globally by 2030; with target 6.6 looking to protect and restore water-related ecosystems.

“According to the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation’s River EcoStatus Monitoring Programme State of Rivers Report 2017-2018, only 15% of South Africa’s rivers are in a good condition and the Vaal River Water Management Area has no sites that are in a good condition; and according to the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) National Biodiversity Assessment: The Status of South Africa’s Ecosystems and Biodiversity, two-thirds of the total length of South Africa’s rivers are in a poor ecological condition.”

Furthermore, the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Directorate’s presentation on wetlands and lakes noted that the SA National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) 2018 indicated that while 6% of wetlands were protected, 79% were in the threatened category.

In addition, “despite the interventions of the SA Defence Force, Ekurhuleni Water Care Company, the minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation and the South African Human Rights Commission in the pollution caused by spillages of raw sewage into the Vaal River, the situation has continued to deteriorate. Rand Water’s quarterly water quality results show that the in-stream quality of water at the Rietspruit at Sebokeng has E. coli counts of 9 188 000per 100ml. The regulatory limit is 400 counts per 100ml. E. coli in water is a strong indication of sewage or animal waste contamination. In light of these factors, it is difficult to see how South Africa will reach its SDG by 2030,” says Liefferink.

Tackling our water woes

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Liefferink has painted a dire picture of South Africa’s water situation. But can new legislative interventions and the mining industry’s endeavours curb the downward slide?

While practical on-the-ground developments remain sluggish, government has made some headway through the promulgation of new water rules and regulations, which include the Water and Sanitation Department’s publication (a collaboration with the Minerals Council) called Benchmarks for Water Conservation and Water Demand Management (WC/WDM) In the Mining Sector.

The commodity-based national water use efficiency benchmark aims to guide the acceptable levels of water usage by the mining industry, and to improve water use efficiency within the mining operations.

In addition, the Department of Environmental Affairs has published the Proposed Regulations pertaining to Financial Provisioning for the Rehabilitation and Remediation of Environmental Damage caused by reconnaissance, Prospecting and Exploration which notes that “financial provision must guarantee the availability of sufficient funds for the remediation and management of residual and latent environmental damage including the ongoing pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water”.

According to Liefferink, this in essence means that the CEO or business rescue practitioner of the company is responsible for implementing the rehabilitation plans.

“What is new is the fact that the liquidator or business rescue practitioner is also responsible for the determination of the financial provision and the implementing the rehabilitation plans and report.”

Liefferink also flags the South African Human Rights Commission which has directed the Department of Water and Sanitation to comply with the following:

  • Include in their annual reports the number of compliance notices or other sanctions imposed including the proportion of successful interventions and/or criminal prosecutions undertaken against non-compliance.
  • Take definitive steps to ensure legal protection of our water sources areas through the deployment ofthe relevant legislative tools in place.
  • Provide a report on the current state of water monitoring, including:
    • Conducting regular determination of the water reserve, including how the DWS accounts for anticipated migration and population growth, limitations or inadequacies in municipal infrastructure as well as other potential impacts on the availability of water resources, such as drought.
    • Audit on all existing water-use licences to ensure they adequately protect the water reserve, including basic needs and ecological requirements.
    • Monitor compliance with water-use licences and its impacts, particularly in mining areas, and the impact mining has and will have on the water reserve and how this aligns with the National Strategic Plan for Water.

The FSE has yet to receive a response on the Human Rights Commission’s progress in relation to the directives, says Liefferink, however the mining industry has been more proactive in progressing its water agenda, especially Sibanye-Stillwater and DRDGOLD.

Diversified mining house Sibanye-Stillwater, which was recognised as the most ‘collaborative’ and ‘water-saving’ company in the local mining industry by Rand Water in November last year, has participated in the creation of the Water Conservation and Water Demand Management (WC/WDM) Assessment Tool.

In line with its water-wise agenda, the miner has a number of initiatives under way including:

  • Potable water independence: using alternative available groundwater sources and rainwater harvesting to help reduce its reliance on purchased water sources.
  • Reduce water loss through:
    • implementing effective real-time metering, water balance management reporting, proactive leak detection and immediate repair initiatives.
    • minimising losses of water through evaporation and seepage by optimising the density of tailings deposition and recovering and recycling of water at our tailing facilities.
    • improving water-use efficiency by tracking and managing water-use efficiency KPIs for all consumers.

Gold surface retreatment company DRDGOLD too continues to progress its water conservation plans, which include reclamation interventions at its operations aimed at removing sources of pollution, rehabilitating targeted areas and enhancing ecosystem functioning, including attraction of fauna and flora, and improved water quality, among others.

“We hope that more mining companies will be proactive rather than reactive as far as mine water management is concerned and that businesses will realise that water security presents a critical and profound challenge to South Africa’s social well-being and economic growth. Poor water quality is one of the major threats to South Africa’s ability to provide sufficient water of suitable quality that can support development needs. The financial resources currently available for managing water quality are insufficient for the task, and do not recognise the level of investment that is required to counteract the economic harm done by declining water quality,” says Liefferink.


Image: Jozi Gold ©Maanda-Nwendamutswu

 

MINING

Notification of the Withdrawal of the Application of an Amendment of the Environmental Authorisation and Environmental Management Programme for the Sweet Sensation Sand Mining Operation in Free State

The concerted efforts and submissions to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Applicant and its appointed Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) by the Protect Vaal Eden Committee, Vaal Eden community, and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment have resulted in the withdrawal of the application of an amendment of the environmental authorisation and environmental management programme for the Sweet Sensation Sand Mining operation adjacent to the Vaal River.  The EAP was notified by the DMRE that further specialist studies would be required to determine the impact the application for a screening plant and process would have on the environment and that a Regulation 31 amendment process, which involves a public participation process, must be undertaken.  The FSE welcomes the DMRE’s notification. Notification letter attached for download

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Mining activists in SA face death threats, intimidation and harassment - report

SATURDAY STAR | 19 APRIL 2019, 7:41PM | SHEREE BEGA Picture:Yvette Descham On August 13 2013, Billy M heard gunshots at the gate of his house. He didn't know who fired the gun, and, worried that local traditional leadership might be involved, he didn't report the incident to the police. For the next five years, the community activist from Fuleni, a small rural village in KwaZulu-Natal bordering one of SA's oldest and largest wilderness areas, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, continued to receive threats.  "We know our lives are in danger. This is part of the struggle," he says, simply. Billy M's account is contained in a new report released this week, 'We know Our  Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, which documents how community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation and violence. The report details how in Billy M's case, mining company Ibutho Coal had applied for rights to develop a coal mine in Fuleni in 2013. The development would have required the relocation of hundreds of people from their homes and farmland and destroy graveyards. "The mine's environmental impact assessment estimated that more than 6000 people living in the Fuleni area would be impacted. Blasting vibration, dust, and floodlights, too, could harm the community," says the report."During the environmental consultation processes, Billy M led opposition that culminated in a protest by community members in April 2016."The company reportedly abandoned the project in 2016 while another firm, Imvukuzane Resources is reportedly interested in mining in the area.The 74-page report, compiled by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice, describes a system designed to "deter and penalise" mining opponents.The authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police and municipal officials, describing the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape between 2013 and 2018. They report intimidation, violence, damage to property, the use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. "The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants," write the authors."Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks."But municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organisers that have no legal basis while government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse."Some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects.  The government has a Constitutional obligation to protect activists," write the authors. Picture: Shayne Robinson, Section 27 Authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining "instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns,” remarks Matome Kapa, attorney at the CER.The report starts with the high-profile murder of activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who was killed at his home after receiving anonymous death threats in 2016. Rhadebe was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a community-based organisation formed in 2007 to oppose mining activity in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape.  "Members of his community had been raising concerns that the titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd proposed to develop on South Africa’s Wild Coast would displace the community and destroy their environment, traditions, and livelihoods. More than three years later, the police have not identified any suspects in his killing."Nonhle Mbuthuma, another Xolobeni community leader and spokesperson of the ACC, has also faced harassment and death threats from unidentified individuals. "I know I am on the hit list.… If I am dying for the truth, then I am dying for a good cause. I am not turning back," she says.But other mining areas have had experiences similar to that of Xolobeni. "While Bazooka’s murder and the threats against Nonhle have received domestic and international attention, many attacks on activists have gone unreported or unnoticed both within and outside the  country."This is, in part, because of "fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks", the authors found.The origin of these attacks or threats are often unknown. "So are the perpetrators, but activists believe they may have been facilitated by police, government officials, private security providers, or others apparently acting on behalf of mining companies. "Threats and intimidation by other community members against activists often stem from a belief that activists are preventing or undermining an economically-beneficial mining project. In some cases, government officials or representatives of companies deliberately drive and exploit  these community divisions, seeking to isolate and stigmatize those opposing the mine."The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, responded that it “is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where (its) members operate”.The authors state that while the mining sector and the government emphasise how mining is essential for economic development, "they fail to acknowledge that mining comes at a high environmental and social cost, and often takes place without adequate consultation with,or consent of, local communities".The absence of effective government oversight means that mining activities have harmed the rights of communities across South Africa in various ways. "Such activities have depleted water supplies, polluted the air, soil, and water, and destroyed arable land and ecosystems."Researchers also documented cases of police misconduct, arbitrary arrest, and excessive use of force during protests in mining-affected communities, "which is part of a larger pattern in South Africa".Last year, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University documented various efforts by traditional authorities to stifle opposition to mines in their communities. "In some cases, traditional authorities label those opposing mines as anti-development and troublemakers, thus alienating and stigmatising them.As a result, community members are often afraid to speak out against a mine in open consultations," CALS found.Research by the SA Human Rights Commission, too, has found that community members sometimes “are afraid to openly oppose the mine for fear of intimidation or unfavourable treatment (by the Traditional Authority)."The SAHRC says many mining-affected communities are experiencing “the creation of tension and division within communities as a result of mining operations.Sometimes, threats and intimidation against activists come from community members who have been promised economic benefit from the proposed project or are politically allied with the government or traditional authority."Local communities often do not benefit from mining activities, says the report. "Although South African law requires the development of social and labour plans (SLPs) that establish binding commitments by mining companies to benefit communities and mine workers, CALS has documented significant flaws in the development and implementation of SLPs."Despite the environmental and social costs of mining, the government is not adequately enforcing relevant environmental standards and mining regulations throughout South Africa. The SAHRC has found that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) often fails to hold mining companies accountable, "imposing few or no consequences for unlawful activities and therefore shifting the costs of pollution to local communities."Compliance with regulatory obligations, as well as monitoring and enforcement of such responsibilities, remains a crucial concern in the context of mining activities," says the SAHRC, noting how the DMR and other governmental agencies often do not respond to complaints filed against mines by community members.The report's authors describe how the lack of government action and oversight has also helped make the mining industry one of the least transparent industries in South Africa. Information that communities require to understand the impacts of mines and to hold mining companies accountable for harmful activities is often not publicly available. "Such information includes environmental authorisations, environmental management programs, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, mining rights, mining work programmes, social and labour plans, or compliance and enforcement information."The only way to access such information is through a request under South Africa’s access to information law, a procedure that the World Health Organisation has called 'seriously flawed' and which the DMR regularly flouts. In addition, mining companies and the government rarely consult meaningfully with communities during the mining approval process, resulting in uninformed and poor government and industry decisions that do not reflect community perspectives or have their support," says the report.The authors assert how the threats, attacks, and other forms of intimidation against community rights defenders and environmental groups have created an environment of fear "that prevents mining opponents from exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and undermines their ability to defend themselves from the threats of mining".In its November 2018 review of South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern about “reports of human rights defenders, particularly those working to promote and defend the rights under the Covenant in the mining and environmental sectors, being threatened and harassed". It recommended that South Africa provide a safe and favourable environment for the work of human rights defenders to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights, including by "ensuring that all reported cases of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice". Mining activist Mariette Liefferink, who made submissions to the UN committee, tells how it has become increasingly difficult to work as an environmental rights defender in South Africa.   "There is an overwhelming body of evidence of intimidation, whether it is by means of frontal attacks or more insidious attacks on activists."International and South African law requires South Africa to guarantee the rights of all people to life, security, freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and the rights to health and a healthy environment, say the authors."The attacks, threats, and obstacles to peaceful protest described in this report prevent many community activists in South Africa from exercising these rights to oppose or raise concerns about mines, in violation of South Africa’s obligations." 

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