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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Why we must protect South Africa’s water source areas now

26 January 2018 at 9:00 am

South Africa faces a deep water crisis. Although the current drought has impacted the entire country, the situation in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape has become critical. As Day Zero looms, Cape Town may become the first major city in the world to run out of water. In confronting the drought, it is imperative that we secure, protect and effectively manage the source of our water.

Most of our freshwater comes from precious areas situated in the highest parts of our catchments that receive the highest rainfall – our water source areas. South Africa has 22 water source areas which, together, take up only 8% of our land, yet provide 50% of our surface run-off (water in wetlands, streams and rivers). These areas support the water needs of approximately 60% of our population and 67% of our national economic activity.

Despite their critical value, however, our water source areas are faced with multiple threats, including land degradation stemming from cultivation, plantations and over-grazing as well as mining, urban development, alien invasive vegetation, climate change and fires.

In 2016, the Centre for Environmental Rights and WWF-SA embarked on the Secure our Strategic Water Source Areas project. The focus of our work has been to identify and advocate for the urgent adoption of legal mechanisms to protect our strategic water sources. This project relied on a comprehensive body of work undertaken by the Water Research Commission, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Department of Water & Sanitation and Department of Environmental Affairs, with review and refinement by the CSIR and WWF-SA.

Earlier this week, we launched a comprehensive new website which explains why we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to secure our water source areas now. The website highlights the value of our water source areas, while outlining the legal and management tools available to protect them.

The new website provides:

  • detailed information on each water source area, including their value for development, health and well-being; threats and risks to long-term integrity; and the benefits that would derive from securing and properly managing our water source areas.
  • an Interactive Map with detailed information on each unique water sources area related to benefits, threats, land-use and current protection levels.
  • a Legal Toolbox that provides a summary of a comprehensive legal review undertaken as part of the Secure our Strategic Water Source Areas project. The Legal Toolbox outlines a range of potential legal and measures that are available to protect our water source areas, as well as the benefits and challenges associated with each legal mechanism.

To support our call for the urgent legal protection of SA’s water source areas by visiting our new website or download our brochure “Why we must protect South Africa’s water source areas now, and by liking this post on our Facebook page.

Thank you to all the research institutions, government departments, NGOs and water experts who have supported this project, with a special shout out to Christine Colvin, Dean Muruven and Samir Randera-Rees from the WWF-SA Freshwater team, as well as to former CER attorney Amanda Mkhonza (now at the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Marine & Environmental Law), CER Legal Campaigner Saul Roux, former CER attorney Marthán Theart (now at SANBI) and CER Communications Manager Annette Gibbs for their tireless work on this project.


For media queries, please contact Annette Gibbs on [email protected] or 082 467 1295