South Africa faces many of the problems experienced in developing countries in which rapid industrialization, population growth and urbanization pose a threat to the quality of the environment.
The need to protect the environment while permitting a degree of development and urbanization which will satisfy the requirements of a growing population is an extremely complicated issue.
One of the main conservation problems is South Africa’s excessively high population growth. On 30 June 1995, the estimated population was 41,244,000.
According to the National Report on Population, which was drawn up for the International Conference on Population and Development in September 1994 in Cairo, South Africa’s population will increase to at least 80 million in less than 30 years.
Erosion and Desertification
Most of South Africa’s soils are particularly unstable. The country loses an estimated 500 million of topsoil annually through erosion caused by water and wind.
Water Quality Management
According to the Discussion Document towards a White Paper on Integrated Pollution Control and Waste Management, released in May 1997, water quality is determined by chemical and microbiological constituents, and the physical attributes (e.g. temperature) of the water. With increased development of South Africa, the country’s water resources are becoming increasingly polluted.
The water quality management goal of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is the maintenance of the fitness for use of South Africa’s water resources on a sustainable basis for recognized water uses. To reach this goal and to counter the deterioration of the quality of water resources, the Department has developed a national policy and strategy based on an integrated water quality management approach. This approach entails establishing clearly defined functional management entities (such as dams, river or catchments) and setting water quality management objectives for water resources within the management entities.
A series of water quality guidelines for South Africa, ranging from domestic use to the marine environment, has been developed and was published in February 1997.
In cooperation with the Water Research Commission, universities, consultants, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), mining companies and other organizations in the water industry, the Department promotes research in the water field in aspects such as water quality management and water treatment technology. This is done to ensure that the management of South Africa’s water resources is based on the best possible technology and scientific information. The regulations for water quality management in the mining industry are currently under revision.
Pollution presents a problem of national proportions, as the bulk of the major coal and gold-mining areas is situated in the upper reaches of the country’s major rivers. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is busy with the construction of water pollution control works at abandoned coalmines in the Witbank (Mpumalanga) and Northern KwaZulu-Natal areas. The newly constructed treatment plant for acid mine drainage water near Witbank (Brugspruit) was opened by the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in 1997.
During 1997, revised mining regulations were published in the Government Gazette for comment. The main aim of these regulations is to prevent, as far as possible, and further to minimize water pollution from mining and related industries. The Groundwater Quality Strategy developed by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has also been finalized, while the document Towards a National Waste Management Strategy for South Africa is almost complete.
According to the Discussion Document towards a White Paper on Integrated Pollution and Waste Management, off-shore exploitation of marine resources – particularly oil and gas exploration and exploitation and the mining of diamonds both in the coastal and deep sea regions – results in marine pollution. Off-shore, the air-lifting operations result in underwater sediment plumes which allegedly have a detrimental effect on marine organisms. In the near shore are there is increasing concern due to the extensive relocation of dune sands. These possible negative effects are being investigated but have never been categorically proven to date.
The document states that oil and gas installations and operations require particular caution due to the devastating environmental damage which could result should an oil spill occur. Oil-tankers continue to navigate around South Africa’s coastline with fairly frequent oil-spills requiring the contingency plan developed by the Sea Fisheries Research Institute to be invoked. Oil tankers (bunker oil) in harbors periodically result in spills. South Africa is required under the marine pollution conventions to which it is a party to provide reception facilities for used oil as well as for garbage from vessels.
An increasing source of concern is non-point source pollution through the seepage of sewage into coastal waters partly as a result of increasing urbanization in many coastal cities. Pint source pollution is also an increasing problem. There are 63 pipelines along the coast, discharging some 800 million liters of partially treated sewage and industrial effluents daily.
Preventive measures are largely the responsibility of the Department of Transport while the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism deals with the cleaning up of oil pollution once it has occurred.
Draft legislation to bring South Africa’s pollution control jurisdiction at sea in line with international standards was tabled in 1997. The Shipping General Amendment Act, 1997 (Act 23 of 1997) proposes an extension of pollution prevention and combating powers at sea by redefining the so-called “prohibited zone” to include South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As a result, South Africa’s pollution control jurisdiction will be extended from 50 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles. Prevention and combating powers will be extended to include all harmful substances. The Navy and Air Force will be responsible for monitoring the enhance pollution control measures. The penalty for contravention has been increased from a maximum R200,000 fine to R500,000, or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.
Coastal Zone Management
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s Subdirectorate: Coastal Zone Management acts as the national coordinating coastal zone management agency. The Subdirectorate aims to enpower coastal users, decision-makers and the people to sustainably and wisely manage the coastal zone and its resources. To achieve this, the Subdirectorate needs to
- formulate a new national policy for coastal zone management through an inclusive, participatory process
- monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of management functions undertaken by coastal authorities
- develop environmentally-friendly decision support systems and management guidelines to inform and support coastal decision-makers
- maintain existing coordinating and advisory service to promote sound coastal management
- facilitate joint responsibility between resource users and relevant authorities in the management of coastal resources
- draft legislation required for effective coastal zone management
- enable effective information exchange to ensure sustainable use of the coast
- fulfill international obligations and conventions, concerning coastal zone management
Hazardous Materials and Waste Control
Hazardous waster includes a wide spectrum of materials with dangerous, explosive, flammable, reactive and toxic characteristics.
South Africa generates less than half a percentage point of the world’s total hazardous waste production of 539 mt a year, 2 mt of which is defined as toxic – 1 mt industrial and 1 mt from the mining sector. About half of this hazardous waste is disposed of on permitted sites. There are eight hazardous waste -disposal sites in South Africa. Because of public pressure, no such sites have been successfully established since 1992.
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has established environmental monitoring committees at hazardous waste management sites which include the relevant authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives of local communities. These committees assist the Department with the monitoring of the sites and in ensuring their acceptable operation.
Hazardous substances, which are extensively used in agriculture and industry, are controlled mainly by the departments of Agriculture and Health.
Pesticides are controlled in terms of the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act, 1947 (Act 36 of 1947). There are regulations for the sale and compulsory registration of veterinary remedies as well as for agricultural remedies, while certain standards are set for pesticide residues on export fruit.
The noise control regulations published for comment in 1994 were to have been promulgated in April 1997. However, according to the Constitution, noise control is the exclusive legislative function of provincial authorities. The promulgation of the amended regulations will therefore be done by each provincial authority for their respective legislative areas. When these regulations are promulgated, they will be applicable to all local authorities.
These regulations provide for noise control over a wide area and contain preventive as well as remedial mechanisms. One of the most important planning measures is the concept of a controlled area, that is an area in which noise levels are above a certain level and certain control measures apply. Examples are noise contours surrounding airports, roads and industries.
Almost every type of paper produced in South Africa has a recycled content. The recovery of paper and board had grown to 37 per cent in 1996. Twelve years earlier, the recovery rate was 29 per cent. Each ton of waster paper recycled saves about 17 pine trees and a ton of recycled paper saves three cubic meters of landfill space, making South Africa save 10 million trees annually.
Some 17 per cent of all new plastics are recycled. It is five times higher than 1993 figures in the United States and Europe.
South Africa follows the US and Japan as the best collectors of used metal beverage cans in the world. In 1996, 1.4 billion cans were recovered.
In comparison with other countries, South Africa has a high returnable glass-container market: 33 per cent of all glass containers produced are returnable or reusable and there are also recycled.
Rapid urbanization and its concomitant environmental impact are posing serious challenges to South African planners and environmentalists. Up to 16,000 ha of farmland are lost to urban development each year. Low-density urban sprawl as well as the rapid growth of informal settlements, contribute to increasing competition between urban land-users for diminishing space and resources. As a result, informal settlements frequently develop on marginal and environmentally sensitive land, posing serious threats to human well-being and to ecosystems.
More than eight million South Africans live in informal settlements at present. Despite the provision of basic services and upgrading incentives, many of these communities live in unhygienic conditions. The country’s high levels of pollution and related diseases result from the reliance of such communities on untreated water and wood or coal as source of domestic fuel, and from inadequate sanitation. The provision of adequate and appropriate services is currently receiving high priority.
Modern town and cities in South Africa benefit most from the recent phenomenal growth in environmental awareness and the resultant community initiatives. The current enthusiasm for the creation and protection of interlinked open-space systems in urban areas throughout the country followed upon earlier initiatives by people and organizations such as the Wildlife Society. Some of the local authorities have adopted their own environment policies.
Environmentally friendly use and development of land can be promoted through official planning processes such as Integrated Development and Land Development Objectives. New planning and environmental legislation make better provision for the proper consideration of environmental concerns in urban planning and development.
Regulations making environmental impact assessments compulsory for a wide range of planned developments were promulgated early in September 1997, with immediate effect. The developments included commercial power generation, nuclear installations, roads, railways, airports, marinas, harbors and private and public resorts.
As from January 5, 1998, the regulations cover structures associated with communications networks, structures for storing and testing explosives, concentration of livestock for commercial production, genetic manipulation and release of organisms for biological pest control.
As from March 2, 1998, the regulations apply to activities including the manufacture or storage of hazardous substances, water-related developments such as canals and diversion of rivers, and sewage treatment plants.
On April 1, 1998, changes in land use, such as a change from residential to industrial, were included in the regulations.
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