“With temperatures predicted to rise by maybe as much as 3-4 degree Celcius in some areas of the Olifants Catchment, nobody can afford to ignore climate change,” says Sharon Pollard, Director of the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD).
Speaking at an Earth Day event in Hoedspruit, she noted that the Olifants River, which extends from Witbank and Sekhukhuneland through the Kruger National Park and across the Mozambique border to Massingir, Chokwe and XaiXai, is already under significant pressure.
It faces threats from a rapid growth in mining, irrigated agriculture and poor regulation, which have left the river and the people who rely on the Olifants River increasingly vulnerable. “When you add the expected effects of climate change to this picture, the consequences are alarming,” says Pollard.
Current climate change models, developed as part of the USAID: RESILIM-Olifants project to make people and ecosystems in our Olifants Catchment more resilient to change, all suggest an increase in temperature in the Catchment. “Significantly the warmer temperatures will also mean more evapo-transpiration. That means the amount of useable water we will be left with, is greatly decreased,” notes Pollard.
So how will the hotter weather and more intense rainfall events affect people in the Catchment?
The scenarios differ for different areas in the catchment, but in general “it threatens to cause widespread livelihood vulnerability, environmental degradation and intensifying conflict over resources,” says Pollard.
Taking the Earth Day theme -‘it’s our turn to lead’ – AWARD is challenging municipalities, government departments, communities and people from various industries to meet the threats posed by climate change head on. This means governing more adaptively so that one monitors, learns and acts in appropriate ways. It also means managing more
systemically, meaning that we take account of the system as a whole and think about the connections between things.
“Climate change is going to affect us all. We all have a role to play in improving our planning and responsiveness to climate change and other risks in the Olifants Catchment,” says Pollard. This includes developing risk reduction plans .
The Olifants River Catchment is roughly 55,000 square kilometres in size (in South Africa) and is home to many people. As well as investigating the impacts of climate change and how people can respond to it, AWARD’s innovative approach to understanding the Olifants River Catchment (ORC) as a system includes research into water quality, governance, land reform, protected area management and more.
Later in 2015, AWARD will be launching the Our Olifants campaign as a way to start building a sense of shared responsibility and identity in the catchment. “Farmers, miners, villagers and lodge owners need to see themselves as part of the same system and part of the solution to climate change and other issues we are facing in the catchment. It really is our time to lead,” says Pollard.