Working for Water creates 180 000 jobs

South Africa’s Working for Water programme, the largest public-funded project to eradicate invasive alien plants and improve water resources in the world, has created over 180 000 full-time jobs over the past two decades.

Launching Weed-buster Awareness Month at Nooitgedacht Dam near Pretoria on Thursday, environment minister Edna Molewa said Working for Water, one of the government’s flagship programmes, was an innovation in mixing protection of the environment with job creation.

“It is an example of integrating environmental conservation and poverty eradication objectives,” she said. “As the country celebrates 20 years of freedom and democracy, this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the success stories we have achieved in implementing programmes that make a difference in people’s lives while saving the environment.”

Weed-buster Month is an annual campaign intended to raise awareness and increase public understanding of the problems caused by alien plants. The South African campaign is linked to invasive plant control initiatives in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, as well as to the broader Global Invasive Species Programme.

Molewa said this year’s campaign would focus on clearing water weeds, specifically water hyacinth in the Nooitgedacht Dam and other water systems.

“This year marks the centenary of biological control research and implementation in South Africa,” she said. “This milestone was showcased at an international symposium held in the Kruger National Park earlier this year.”

Working for Water was first launched 19 years ago in the Western Cape by the late Kader Asmal. The weed-management programme uses bio-control, chemical and mechanical methods to destroy damaging invasive plants.

Saving biodiversity, water and the economy

Invasive alien species cause billions of rands of damage to South Africa’s economy every year, and are the single biggest threat to the country’s biodiversity. These are plants, animals and microbes introduced from other countries, which then out-compete and push out indigenous species.

Invasive plants pose a direct threat not only to South Africa’s biological diversity, but also to water security, the ecological functioning of natural systems and the productive use of land. They intensify the impact of fires and floods and increase soil erosion. These plants can divert enormous amounts of water from more productive uses. More than this, invasive aquatic plants – such as the water hyacinth – affect agriculture, fisheries, transport, recreation and water supply.

Of the estimated 9 000 plants introduced to this country, 198 are classified as invasive. These cover about 10% of the country, with the problem growing exponentially.

Working for Water works local communities, to whom it provides jobs, and with national government departments such as environment, agriculture, and trade and industry. It also collaborates with provincial departments of agriculture, conservation and environment, research foundations and private companies.

Since its launch in 1995, the programme has cleared more than 1-million hectares of invasive alien plants, all the while providing jobs and training to thousands of people from the most marginalised sectors of society. Of these, 52% are women.

Scientists and field workers use a range of methods to control invasive alien plants. These include felling, removing or burning invading alien plants, or applying environmentally safe herbicides. Biological control uses species-specific insects and diseases from the alien plant’s country of origin.

Working for Water currently runs over 300 projects in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. The programme is globally recognised as one of the most outstanding environmental conservation initiatives in Africa, and the world.

SANews.gov.za and SouthAfrica.info reporter