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WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 October 2004
NATIONAL WATER RESOURCES STRATEGY: HEARINGS
Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa PowerPoint submission
The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) submitted its comments on the National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS). In essence, WESSA was opposed to building more dams to counter South Africa's water problems. The organisation also complained that its comments on the strategy had not been incorporated in the final version of the strategy.
Members were concerned at WESSA's opposition to the building of more dams as this position had also been held by other organisations. The Committee was also concerned that the Catchment Management Agencies would not be able to operate optimally without government assistance.
Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa submission
Mr P Dowling presented WESSA's comments on the National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS). Their areas of focus were the NWRS process, policies and realities and lastly growth and the problem of priorities. The concern on whether previous civil society comments had been assimilated into the latest version of the strategy, was once again raised.
Ms S Maine (ANC) noted that much concern had been raised over the strategy's proposal for the building of more dams. She asked whether the Department had failed to monitor the utilisation of existing dams. Ms Maine asked if the concern had merit.
Ms D Van der Walt (DP) asked what the concept of 'working for water' entailed.
Mr Dowling noted that the concept was used in the strategy. He explained that it was an environmentally friendly way of increasing water availability as opposed to great engineering empowerment.
Mr S Simmons (NNP) asked if WESSA was opposed to the building of more dams. He also asked what other alternatives were available especially in the Western Cape.
Mr Dowling said that WESSA was opposed to the building of more dams. He said that if more dams were to be built every river would end up being dammed. He felt that other alternatives should be considered. Mr Dowling said that dams should not be regarded as the only source of water. He proposed that water provision be decentralised to communities themselves as they had a fair idea of what their needs were. Communities needed to be educated on the scarcity of water as a resource and on ways to conserve it.
Ms M Ngwenya (ANC) asked how the Department could assist with capacity building in the water sector.
Mr Dowling said that capacity building should take place at all levels. He noted that greater engagement with civil society and local communities should be encouraged.
Mr I Mogase (ANC) was concerned that greater interaction with local communities was called for even though the strategy and related legislation was of a highly technical nature.
Mr Dowling agreed that water policies and legislation should be translated into a more easily understandable language. He said that civil society could assist with the formulation of a document.
The Chair felt that it seemed that civil society was not entirely satisfied with the process that had led up to the latest version of the NWRS. She said that concerns had been raised that funding which would allow for proper engagement by civil society had not been forthcoming.
Mr Dowling noted that there had been a great deal of inputs on the strategy. It was nevertheless felt certain members of civil society could not engage due to financial constraints. Mr Dowling said that no disrespect was intended towards the sincerity of Parliament on the process. He did however say that civil society was concerned over the fact that public hearings on the NWRS were taking place even though Cabinet had already given it its stamp of approval.
Mr B Rowlston apologised for not having made available a hard copy of the Department's response to the public hearings. He would provide one to the Committee in the near future. The NWRS was not a draft as was perceived by some but that it had already been approved by Cabinet. It will take effect when published in the government gazette. It was clarified that the NWRS dealt with the management of water and not the provision of water services. A strategic framework was in place to deal with water provision services.
Mr Rowlston said that the 25 litres of water per person was a bare minimum needed to survive. The 25-litre amount was intended as part of government's policy to make water accessible to all. It could be increased in the future. It came to light that an independent water services regulator unit was in place. It was not however as yet insulated against political influence. The unit's formation was based on foreign models i.e. from Australia.
Mr Rowlston noted that concerns that had been raised over the privatisation of water were premature as water was still regarded as a national asset. Public-private partnerships in no way amounted to privatisation. The NWRS in itself did not propose the building of new dams. It did however provide information on the Department's plans to combat SA's water shortage. The building of new dams was but one possible solution. The dams would be developed in a socially acceptable manner and the utilisation of existing dams would be evaluated. The World Commission on Dams' guidelines would be taken into consideration.
Mr Rowston pointed out that a unit had been established for the management of a national infrastructure. He said that water conservation and management had also been identified as being of importance. The need to conserve and save SA's existing water resources was of utmost importance. He conceded that information on it was not too reliable.
In as much as the 25-year planning was seen to be too short, the Department had made allowances for the period to be increased on a five year incremental basis as was needed. Catchment Management Agencies (CMA) were not private organisations. He said that CMAs were products of the Water Act and would be accountable to the Minister. The Department conceded that the establishment of CMAs was a complex process and that it was ongoing. CMAs would not be responsible for dam safety. They would take care of disaster management with the assistance of the Department. CMAs were as yet not functional. Mr Rowlston noted that the concern over the double charging for infrastructural development was misplaced. Pricing strategies were currently being reviewed and public participation would be encouraged. The Department felt that the process for consultation may not have been perfect but where funding was requested it had been provided. In conclusion Mr Rowlston stated that even though all comments received could not be incorporated into the latest version, they had nevertheless been considered.
Ms Ngwenya asked how the Department intended monitoring CMAs. Mr Rowlston answered that the Water Act sets out policies to which CMAs would have to abide to. The monitoring of CMAs would be done in a policy form as designed by the Department.
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked whether the Department would be giving CMAs financial support as well. Mr Rowlston pointed out that only five of the nineteen CMAs would be able to support themselves from water use charges. He conceded that initially financial support to CMAs would be inevitable but in the long run CMAs would be expected to become self-reliant.
The Chair was concerned that capacity would be lacking in CMAs. Mr Rowlston said that it was hoped that CMAs would contract in expertise as needed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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