Millennium Developmental Goals - meeting targets: Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) briefing

Water and Sanitation

28 June 2011
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs reported on the progress made toward reaching the targets set by the Millennium Developmental Goals. The Department of Environmental Affairs formed part of a working group that provided information to Statistics South Africa, the body responsible for coordinating and compiling the Millennium Development Goals Country Report 2010. The Department of Environmental Affairs reported that South Africa’s environment was deteriorating and that climate change could no longer be ignored. Natural resources were an economic asset. Poor waste management, unplanned coastal development, waste water pollution, the impact of industrial activities and rising water demand were the biggest areas of concern. South Africa had less water available than before and what was available was of poorer quality. Almost all exploitable sources had been tapped. Mining lowered the quality of surface water. Millennium Development Goal 7 was environmental sustainability. Its four sub-goals included halving by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The Department experienced some difficulty with providing information as some of the targets and indicators were not clearly defined, and in some instances data were unavailable. Current indications suggested that South Africa would not meet the timetable for implementing the Millennium Development Goal7 indicators. 

Members asked questions around the working relationship between the Department of Environmental Affairs and other departments, and about their coordinated efforts to improve environmental sustainability. Members asked about indigenous forests, whether learners were encouraged to pick up litter, and for clarity on the difference between social statistics and environmental statistics. The Committee was generally disappointed by the quality of the presentation, and aggrieved that no senior official from the Department of Environmental Affairs  was present to discuss an important matter like the Millennium Developmental Goals. The Chairperson requested that the presentation be improved and resubmitted to the Committee.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the meeting by stating that he was deeply disappointed that neither the Director-General nor the Deputy Director-General, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), were present. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a serious matter and as such should be taken seriously and a senior official from the DEA should have been present.

Department of Environmental Affairs . Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability. Presentation
Dr Rudi Pretorius, Director: Geographic Information Systems, DEA, who was responsible for environmental reports and statistics, gave the presentation.

Dr Pretorius began with a problem statement that South Africa’s environment was deteriorating and that the effects of climate change could no longer be ignored. He went on to say that natural resources were an economic asset and that ecosystem failure would compromise the ability to address social and economic priorities.

The main areas of concern, he noted, were poor waste management, unplanned coastal development, waste water pollution, the impact of industrial activities and most notably that water demand was expected to rise by 52% over the next 30 years while supply was likely to decline if the current trend continued.

Dr Pretorius described the environmental trends according to different categories. He started off with water availability and quality; he highlighted that the country had less water available and/or poorer quality than before, and that almost all exploitable sources had been tapped which resulted in decreased freshwater flows in rivers.

Dr Pretorius next spoke about marine and coastal resources. As much as 40% of South Africa’s population lived within 100 km of the coast. There was a substantial development pressure for infrastructure. There had been an increase in daily discharge of wastewater into the marine environment by 62% between 2001 and 2006. On a positive note, the number of blue flag beaches, that met 14 water quality,  environmental education and information, safety and services criteria, increased from four in 2001 to 23 (as at November 2010). Industrialization was the next category, and in this area, the main concern was that mining lowered the quality of surface water. Lastly he spoke about climate change. Absolute temperature had increased by about 0.6 °C over the last century.  During much of the last decade, annual ambient temperatures were higher than the long-term average. Global temperatures would likely rise by a further 1.1°C to 6.4 °C during the 21st century.

Dr Pretorius explained that the MDGs were adopted in 2000 and were set to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs provide concrete, numerical benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty in its many dimensions. The eight MDGs (slide 8) broke down into 21 quantifiable targets that were measured by 60 indicators.

MDG 7 was environmental sustainability (slide 9), which was further analysed into the following four sub-goals.

Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources (slide 9)
Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation (slide 10)
By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers

The indicators for the above varied from “Proportion of land area covered by forest” to “Proportion of urban population living in slums”. (Slides 9-10)

MDG facts and figures were provided (slides 11-12); followed by a map of protected areas (slide 13); indicators as against 1994 baseline; current (2010); 2015 target, and target achievability; logical links between environmental sustainability and economic activities (slides 15-16); conclusions from the MDG report (slide 17); and conclusions (slide 18). 

Dr Pretorius  went on to explain that the DEA had experienced some difficulty in using the indicators, as some were not clearly defined. For instance, he pointed out that there was no universally acceptable definition of “slum”, and that there were no targets for what proportion of land should be covered by forests.   He also mentioned that the 2010 country report coordinated by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) differed from the 2005 report, as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were able to participate and provide data. 

Dr Pretorius further explained that the DEA formed part of working group 5 which included the Department of Water Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.  Their role was to provide Stats SA with facts and figures. This was sometimes difficult because there was a difference in the methodologies used to obtain data between the different departments. He was also concerned that there was a difference in methodology between countries.  He noted that in some instances data were not available, for example, the Bio-Diversity Institute could provide details on plant species, but that there was no data for animal species.  A further concern was that Stats SA was not accustomed to using environmental statistics, and that this was a challenge.  He added that consultants appointed by Stats SA wrote the final report.

Dr Pretorius  concluded by indicating some of the targets that had been met, which included safe drinking water and the reduction of ozone depleting emissions.  Although there were these positive developments, current
indications suggested that the timetable for implementing the indicators of MDG 7 would not be met in South Africa. To reverse the situation, greater effort was required to deal with the complex environmental issues to achieve the broader sustainability goal.

The Chairperson opened the floor with a request that the report be “beefed up” and resubmitted to the Committee. He wanted measurements, outstanding data and possible solutions to some of the key environmental challenges to be included in the new report. He asked if the DEA had written to the United Nations asking for clarity on some of the indicators. He also wanted the DEA to draw up a report on some of the difficulties and challenges it experienced on reporting and submit that to the Committee. Based on that report the Committee could then decide if it would have to call Stats SA. He added that the Committee would also like to see the quarterly reports. He also wanted clarity on whether the conclusions reached were those of the Department or of the consultants.

Dr Pretorius answered that Stats SA was the coordinating body and was therefore responsible for communicating with the United Nations. He agreed that there should be ongoing engagement with the Committee and the Department would adjust the report and resubmit it.

Dr S Kalyan (DA) commented that the Stats SA report did not reflect favorably on the DEA, and asked why the recommendations of that report were not included in the presentation. She also felt that reports should not be outsourced to consultants.

Dr S Huang  (ANC) agreed with Dr Kalyan that consultants should not be writing reports,  and asked for clarity on the difference between social statistics and environmental statistics.

Dr Pretorius responded that social and economic statistics published by Stats SA were regarded as official statistics. This meant that the statistics had been vetted and approved. At present there were very few environmental indicators that were certified as official.  The DEA was in the process of trying to address that. The indicators would include the MDGs and the methodology developed would be evaluated and certified by Stats SA.  He explained that in 2007, when the National State of the Environment Report was released, people questioned the statistics, so it was important for the methodology to be certified by the Statistician General.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked in relation to indigenous forests.  He asked about the relationship between the DEA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and how these two Departments worked together to protect indigenous forests.

Dr Pretorius answered that the DEA did exchange spatial data and that those data sets were used by the Bio-Diversity Institute to determine which areas were suitable for protection.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) that the non-compliance issues were presented very mildly and she would prefer greater detail. She asked how the DEA worked with the Department of Education (DOE), and if learners were encouraged to pick up litter and make a positive contribution to sustaining the environment.

Dr Pretorius said that he believed that the DEA worked with the DOE but that he did not have specific details on the working relationship and it would be best to ask an official who worked in that area.

The Chairperson concluded the meeting by saying that he was very disappointed by the quality of the presentation made. Earlier in the day the Committee listened to a presentation by the Department of Water Affairs, which was more detailed and allowed for better engagement on the subject matter. He reiterated that the MDGs were a serious matter and that he was displeased that no senior officials from the DEA were present. This was a poor reflection on the Department and he was distressed that no one from the DEA had communicated with him (as the Chairperson) to apologise that no senior officials would be present. In short, he asked the DEA to get its house in order.

The meeting was adjourned.

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