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Published: 22 May 2012
|SA: Molewa: Address by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, a the launch of the National Biodiversity Assessment, KZN (22/05/2012)|
I am honoured and humbled to join the celebration of the International Day for Biodiversity which is dedicated to the preservation of life on Earth. As you know, the Earth is dubbed 'Mother Earth' because of her role to provide for the existence of humankind. Just like the Earth, mothers play a critical role in our lives - so we need to treat the Earth as such. To this effect, at an initiative of the United Nations General Assembly with a view of engaging people all around the world for protecting life on Earth, 22 May has been declared as the International Day for Biodiversity.
Ladies and Gentleman, you will agree with me that iSimangaliso Wetland Park is more fitting to celebrate International Day for Biodiversity. As you know iSimangaliso was inscribed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999 because of its exceptional biodiversity. iSimangaliso is also home to five (5) major ecosystems that provides habitat for a significant diversity of African species, including those that are rare, threatened and/or endemic. In addition, iSimangaliso also has four (4) RAMSAR sites, which are wetlands of international importance, comprising of different types of wetlands than any other place in the world.
To most people, 'biodiversity' is a misunderstood concept. In simple terms, Biodiversity is all plants and animals that we have and all their interactions and the differences between them - this also includes human beings. Biodiversity provides us with food, material for shelter, clean air and water, medicines as well as places for healing and enrichment. Biodiversity is therefore the basis for human, socio-economic development.
Failure to protect biodiversity is self-defeating because we are all going to lose at the end - the rural poor being the most affected. This is because many of our communities are directly dependent on biodiversity and ecosystems services. As mentioned already, ecosystems supply food and fuel, clean our air and water, and help regulate our climate. In short, they provide a wide range of services – ecosystem services on which our well being and livelihoods as humanity depends.
The International Day for Biodiversity gives all of us an opportunity every year to raise local awareness of the important role and value of biodiversity for our health, our wealth, our food, our survival, indeed for our life! You and I use biodiversity everyday in our daily lives yet these services of Nature are taken for granted. The benefits of biodiversity or ecosystem services, or the natural capital as it is known, are estimated at R73 billion contributing to 7% of South Africa's GDP per annum. This is our competitive edge in growing our economy and addressing climate change adaptation.
We are all familiar with the concept of service delivery and the challenges we grapple with in making sure all citizens receive essential services. What we are sometimes less familiar with is the notion that it is not only municipalities that provide services, but also our biodiversity and ecosystems. While we are aware of our built infrastructure like roads, sewers and pylons, and the services they bring to us in our homes, few of us are aware of the services we get from our ecological infrastructure like wetlands, mountains, rivers, coastal dunes and vegetation. These ecosystem services, like municipal services, play an essential role in supporting social development and economic prosperity.
It is in this context that proper conservation, rehabilitation and management of our ecosystems and protected areas will not only increase our competitive advantage, but help us to position our economy to become more sustainable and resilient in changing global conditions.
The province of Kwa-Zulu Natal has been a major contributor to biodiversity conservation in our country. Here at iSimangaliso, government has created a new model for biodiversity conservation–led development. This recognises that in order to achieve our socio-economic imperatives and government priorities, parks like iSimangaliso seek to conserve this exceptional biodiversity while at the same time creating responsible forms of growth, job creation and the alleviation of poverty.
Since its establishment in 2000, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority has made significant progress in conserving iSimangaliso’s World Heritage values, contributing to economic empowerment and growing regional tourism.
Over the past 12 years over R 116 million has been spent by iSimangaliso on park infrastructure, day visitor facilities and upgrading of tourism facilities. At the same time thousands of local jobs have been created and local SMMEs have been employed. The land care programme has seen 1 550 alien clearing and rehabilitation contracts go to 157 community based contractors. Year on year 3 500 temporary jobs are created in the infrastructure and land care programmes. Fifty artists and 320 crafters are benefitting from programmes that build their technical capacity and link them to markets. Tour guides and chefs have received training and are working in the tourism sector that has grown up around the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
85 Rural entrepreneurs benefit from an ongoing enterprise development programme that has provided technical training, a business hub and small grants. Equity for the mandatory community partners in the lodge concessions awarded by iSimangaliso range from 20 to 61%. The 53 activity licences that were awarded last year include minimum equity targets. A percentage of these licences have been reserved for 60% or more community owned and actively managed businesses. The iSimangaliso Authority is also busy creating tomorrow’s CEOs and Park Managers. A bursary programme that is supporting 45 students in tertiary education to study tourism and conservation related courses is in its third year of implementation. All of these students are progressing well through their studies and there have been no drop outs. We will meet some of the 2012 intake later on today.
However, from time to time, we have to take stock of the increasing impact of these activities on our natural resources. It is in this spirit that the National Biodiversity Assessment, which was completed recently, was conducted. Ladies and Gentlemen, the National Biodiversity Assessment which is an Assessment of South Africa’s Biodiversity and Ecosystems 2011 (NBA 2011) is a comprehensive technical assessment of the state of South Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems, across terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine environments.
The assessment has an emphasis on spatial biodiversity information including species and ecosystems. It synthesises key aspects of South Africa’s biodiversity science and makes it available in a useful context to policymakers, decision-makers and practitioners in a range of sectors. This assessment lays the foundation for effective management of biodiversity and for monitoring our progress against national and global targets.
In addition, this assessment hopes to capture the challenges and opportunities embedded in South Africa’s rich natural heritage by looking at biodiversity in the context of social and economic change and recognising the relationship between people and their environment.
In relating social and economic concerns to environmental ones, we challenge the notion that there necessarily is a trade-off to be made between faster economic growth and the preservation of our environment. We suggest instead that good environmental management coupled with integrated development planning will allow us to build a low carbon economy that supports resilient ecosystems and economies. Healthy intact ecosystems give us more options for responding to climate change and alleviating poverty. Taking stock of what we have and where we are, allows us to be proactive and make informed decisions about future land-use planning at various scales for South Africa's optimal fast-tracked growth path.
However, we cannot have planning without the delivery of tangible benefits from biodiversity conservation. Promoting growth and building a better South Africa is a balancing act. We are also aware of environmental challenges that diminish our natural resources even further, poaching, illegal hunting and trade issues. We must therefore not be discouraged by these difficulties as our successes in effective management of our natural resources can only be measured by our commitment and interventions and globally the challenges are the same if not worse.
Furthermore, in order to ensure the successful implementation of our interventions, to address biodiversity loss, to ensure sustainable utilisation of our natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits of nature’s gifts, so that we can grow into a prosperous and healthy nation towards a better quality of life for all citizens, we need the full engagement of all people living in our country, all states and all citizens of the world.
It is only through broad-based partnerships, commitment, cooperation, coordination, communication, capacity building initiatives that we can succeed in ensuring that life will continue to flourish on Earth for the benefit of all species, including the human species. Here at iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, we have developed a model that distributes the benefits of biodiversity conservation fairly, equitably and sustainably. iSimangaliso demonstrates that it is possible to balance conservation and socio–economic development. In so doing, we are fulfilling our obligation to protect the outstanding biodiversity of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for all South Africans and the World.
We have recently welcomed the New Antarctic research vessel, the SA Agulhas II, signifying a renewed commitment to conserve and safeguard marine biodiversity with specific attention to southern ocean systems. The SA Agulhas II has been dedicated to another great South African icon, Miriam Makeba, well known as Mama Africa. In honour of Mama Africa and the theme of International Biodiversity day, the department has gone further to capacitate our youth in conserving our biodiversity, by offering 2 bursaries to deserving students. The selection process will be conducted in October 2012.
As I conclude, I would like to emphasise that our vast wealth of biodiversity – our variety of life from genes, species and ecosystems – offers us a suite of natural solutions in the face of unemployment, rising poverty and climate change. All urban citizens and our rural masses therefore need to step up their efforts to protect our biodiversity that supports our livelihoods for the benefit of present and future generations.