South Africa: Wessa – The Real State of the Environment

by Feb 24, 2012Wildlife News

South Africa performs dismally in a global environmental public health and ecosystem vitality assessment. A report which has just been released by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Centre of the European Commission has painted a very disturbing picture of the effectiveness of environmental management in South Africa.

The report assessed 132 countries and ranked them according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which essentially tracks both environmental public health as well as ecosystem vitality against ten policy categories:

· Environmental Burden of Disease

· Biodiversity and Habitat

· Water (effects on human health)

· Forestry

· Air Pollution (effects on human health)

· Fisheries

· Air Pollution (ecosystem effects)

· Agriculture

· Water Resources (ecosystem effects)

· Climate Change

South Africa was ranked 128 and was recognized as one of the countries with the fastest rate of environmental decline. The twenty two indicators that were used in the assessment highlight glaring concerns, and ones which require urgent intervention. All of the concerns identified in the assessment correlate to ones that have been identified by WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) and are part of our core focus areas.

What is also problematic is that South Africa is recognized as having some of the most progressive environmental legislation on the planet and yet, as this study shows, the implementation of this legislation seems to be woefully inadequate. We can no longer ignore the fact that a degrading environment has direct impacts on human health and well being.

The study reaffirms WESSAs position that humans cannot survive without the life support systems provided for by the natural environment. If the government wishes to make the greatest impact on the lives of its people it needs to secure these environmental systems and their service provision.

We cannot expect to attain a better score when the majority of the country’s water systems are compromised; we continue to have a fossil fuel driven energy regime; our natural ecosystems are being transformed at an ever accelerating speed and there is a disconnect between social upliftment programmes and environmental management.

The trend also flies in the face of international accords that South Africa is signatory to: In 2010, South Africa signed the Convention on Biodiversity which committed us to halving the current rate of biodiversity loss. If, as a country, we are to meet this target; significant effort and resources will be required.

Though WESSA trusts that the issues raised in this study are taken seriously by government, WESSA believes that it highlights the need for new ways of thinking to address complex ecological systems.

This new way of thinking should seek to strengthen dialogue and working relationships between science, society and government for a strengthened participative democracy.

One of the ways to achieve this is through large scale social change and bold leadership in order to turn the tide on the degradation of our environment. A step in this direction is the establishment of a unique government/civil society partnership: the South African Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) has recognized WESSA as an Institute of Sectoral or Occupational Excellence (ISOE). This comes as a result of an assessment of the skills and capacity in the environmental sector that recognized a significant shortfall, particularly at a local level. WESSA, together with the LGSETA, will help capacitate local government by developing and implementing courses that address biodiversity, waste, water and sanitation – the very issues on which the trend analysis was based. WESSA recognizes that human capacity development is key to achieving longterm change.

This change is not unrealistic. If other countries such as such as Azerbajan, Albania and even Egypt have been able to significantly improve their ranking, why can’t South Africa?

See Report:

Contact: Garth Barnes
Director of Conservation
Tel: +27 11 462 5663
Cell: + 27 82 459 6454