The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) Goal 6 and 9 aims to invest in adequate infrastructure, protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems and to increase the manufacturing sector’s output and share to GDP by 100% by 2030. The UN advocates that this can be achieved through the building of infrastructure which promotes inclusive and sustainable industries to encourage innovation. The World Bank Enterprise Survey in 2017 showed that less than 50% of the enterprises in African states are non-innovative especially when the 2030 Agenda seeks to ensure the sustainable development of Africa through innovation. This brings about many questions with no answers, but the ability to innovate and the development of innovation capacity in African states is not the same. Despite infrastructure investments being made in Africa, the goal to double productivity in the industries, seems a far target to reach and this is particularly true for ecological infrastructure (EI) in South Africa.
It is no secret that South Africa is considered a water-scarce country and faces challenges to guarantee future water security. To strengthen its water security, South Africa needs investment in water-related ecological infrastructure, especially under conditions of climate change, increasing population growth, land degradation and stressed water management systems. In essence, the South African government should address the importance of ecological infrastructure as an integral part of the answer to future development of South Africa.
So, what is ecological infrastructure and why is it important for the future of our people?
Ecological infrastructure is the ecosystem services to society and functions as a nature-based equivalent of, or complement to, built infrastructure. In a nutshell, it is nature’s capital stock providing a range of valuable service for human benefit. And they range from clearing invasive alien vegetation like black wattle from mountains, rivers and wetlands, wetland rehabilitation, as well as building artificial wetlands.
Why is it important to invest in EI?
Well, maintaining a healthy EI is critical to South Africa in more ways than one as it can help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other national and regional development goals. Unlocking funding opportunities for EI are essential in the future of South Africa as they can alleviate poverty, food security and increase water supplies to the people. Recent models of water supply systems in the Baviaanskloof-Tsitsikamma and uMngeni catchments have already suggested that an investment in EI would provide other benefits that build infrastructure does not.
An ecological infrastructure approach has already had some success fortifying reliable water supply to growing cities other parts of the world, such as New York and Sydney. Achieving the SDGs is a challenge for all countries, with no one country shining in the achievement of all SDGs. There is value in all countries learning from each and particularly South Africa which ecological infrastructure is in a poor state with hotspots in the Western Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the North West Province.
South Africa is rich’s in natures capital stock and ecosystems that deliver important services to its population and a variety of ecosystems that support a range of essential economic sectors. In my opinion, feasible ecological investment should be made to produce durable ecological infrastructure that can provide a flow of “ecosystem service” outputs. In this way, nature stores wealth and passes it through time, acting as capital. It is only a matter of time to see if South Africa’s government is keeping the Sustainable Development Goals in their mist through Infrastructure South Africa (ISA). ISA will be at arm’s length from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) and will be responsible for project preparation, packaging, funding pathways and providing strategic oversight over all the gazetted projects.
The process is simple If we help nature, then nature can help us.