Nedbank invests in water project

Nedbank’s investment will help conserve
two of South Africa’s major catchment
areas.
(Image: Airboat Afrika)

From left, WWF-SA’s Dr Dion Nel, Nedbank
CEO Mike Brown and Dr Morne du Plessis,
WWF-SA CEO.

Nedbank has established itself as a
leading group in the green revolution.
(Images: Bongani Nkosi)

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Bongani Nkosi

Nedbank’s new R9-million (US$1.3-million) investment in the South African branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF-SA) Water Balance Programme will help sustain ecosystems in two of the country’s largest catchment areas.

Mpumalanga’s Enkangala Grasslands and the Upper Umgeni in KwaZulu-Natal will be rehabilitated during the three-year project, thereby improving the country’s quantity and quality of water.

Nedbank, one of the country’s four largest banks, unveiled its investment at a media briefing in Johannesburg on 29 August 2011.

Removing alien invasive species along 450ha of land in the catchment areas will be the main focus of the rehabilitation project.

These species sap large volumes of South Africa’s precious water. WWF-SA experts estimate that Nedbank’s funding initiative will help release at least 550 000 kilolitres of water into reservoirs each year.

WWF-SA Biodiversity Unit manager Dr Deon Nel said the overriding aim is to “ensure that the catchments are able to function properly and release water”.

Alien invasive trees and plants grow far more rapidly than indigenous species, posing a threat to biodiversity. “These (alien) trees are spreading across the country, they consume our water,” said Nel.

According to the Agricultural Research Council, alien species, such as the Australian black wattle, drastically reduce the volume of water that reaches rivers and dams, as they consume far more moisture than indigenous plants.

Industry statistics show that it’s in the interest of South Africa, a water-stressed nation, to exterminate as many of the problematic alien plants as possible to improve water availability.

“When one considers that approximately 3 300-million kilolitres of water is trapped by invasive alien species in South Africa, equating to around 7% of the country’s water run-off, it’s easy to understand how important this investment is in improving water security in our country,” said Nedbank CEO Mike Brown.

The Enkangala Grasslands and Umgeni are two of five critical water catchments being rehabilitated by WWF-SA’s programmes. The others are Kouga in the Eastern Cape, and the upper Berg and Breede catchments as well as the Garden Route between George and Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape.

Straddling KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces, Enkangala Grasslands releases water into the Tugela, Pongola, Usuthu and Vaal rivers.

“In addition to increasing water supply, these investments into WWF-SA’s water programmes will also improve water quality, create jobs and contribute to climate change adaptation and resilience,” Nel said.

South Africa has a challenge to manage its water resources sustainably to avoid the forecast critical shortage by 2025, which would affect livelihoods and the economy.

Jobs and support for farmers

Nedbank is well-recognised for its role in the “green revolution”, having invested heavily in environmental projects recently. It has also donated more than R80-million ($11.3-million) to 150 major conservation projects since 1990 through its Green Trust.

“This new multimillion-rand investment raises our water stewardship efforts to a much higher and more impactful level,” Brown said.

The bank predicts that scores of jobs will be created through its latest investment.

Up to 230 000 jobs stand to be made available in the water-resource management sector alone in the next few years.

Christo Marais, head of operations at the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Natural Resource Management Programme, said the number of jobs depends on public-private investments.

Funds worth R57-billion ($8.1-billion) are needed to unlock potential. “This R57-billion is clearly unaffordable for government … The private sector will have to come to the party,” said Marais.

The Water Balance Programme will also prove beneficial to farmers. “It is pleasing … that we can support the agriculture sector through this work,” said Brown.

Department of Environmental Affairs