Statement by Franz Fuls, expedition leader of the international Triwaters 2015 Source-to-Sea expedition:
We cannot wait for government and other relevant parties to fix South Africa’s water problems.
Whether you are an extreme white water kayaker, wilderness camper, rock climber, mountain biker, canoe marathon athlete, trekker or any other kind of adventurer that spends time in the outdoors, you have two things in common.
The first is that small trickling seepage at God-No Wall, Waterfall Boven, where thirsty rock climbers can fill up their water bottles; a technical water crossing during an adventure race; sometimes the actual medium of transport down a ten metre waterfall. We play in it. We drink it. We need it more than anything else to survive.
The second is that all weekend warriors and adventurers have a shared responsibility to become active participants in conserving our rivers and our water, and ultimately our survival.
All is not as it seems. Athletes participating in the Duzi Canoe Marathon often tell stories of stomach bugs ingested during the race. Adventurers sometimes halt their expeditions due to water borne diseases. Adventure festivals like the South African National Freestyle Kayak Championships from time to time have to deal with less water flow than needed. Wilderness trekkers have come across perennial streams that dried up without reason.
As long ago as 2006 the South African Department of Environmental Affairs stated that “Aquatic ecosystems, including wetlands, are in the worst condition of all the ecosystems. Only 26% of rivers are intact, 54% are critically endangered, and more than 50% of wetlands have been destroyed.”
The problem is not exclusive to South Africa. In May this year, the media widely reported about the global scale of this problem. Around 80% of the world population suffers serious threats to its water security. A whopping 768 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. By mid-century 2.5 billion people will still not have access to decent sanitation.
Last week media reports offered some insight into the current state of South Africa’s water:
• South Africa is already using 98% of its available water.
• 40% of waste water treatment plants are in a critical state.
• 37% of processed drinking water is lost through leaking pipes and dripping taps.
• Only 5% of hazardous waste is disposed of correctly.
• Acid mine drainage from legacy and new gold and coal mines are having a negative impact on river health.
• Pollution of South Africa’s river systems is so intense that it is practically impossible to measure its extent.
The South African government needs about R293 billion to fix the problem. That is 100 times more than their current budget.
We cannot wait for government and others to fix problems that will directly affect our playgrounds, and ultimately our survival.
It is the responsibility of all weekend warriors and adventurers to become active participants in conserving our rivers and our water. So here’s what you can do:
• Do not discard waste (for example oil, paint and rubbish) into sewer or storm water systems.
• If you observe unlawful discharge of any waste by industry, report it to your local authority or to the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation.
• Use rainwater for domestic and garden purposes by catching and storing run-off.
• Use water from your household activities (washing dishes or bathing) to water the garden.
• Start monitoring the health your local river or stream using miniSASS, a citizen science river health monitoring tool. It is cheap, easy and fast. Scientists recognize and work with this information.
• Work with government, industry and conservation societies like WESSA on water and river conservation.
• Become personally involved.
• Make a donation to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), empowering them to conserve our rivers in the long term.
“At the end of the day, it is not only up to us to spread our love of kayaking, but the onus is also on us to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to develop their own love for kayaking and the splendour of the rivers without which these adventures will not be possible.” Johann Swart, Fluid Kayaks
If you choose to do nothing, you risk everything. Do not wait on others until it is too late. Become involved.
The line from the source of the Vaal River to the ocean via the Orange River is the largest continuous water body within the borders of South Africa, covering a distance of more than 2 500 kilometers. In January 2015 three adventurers, Troy Glover (Canada), Brett Merchant (Australia) and Franz Fuls (South Africa), will follow this line from the source of the Vaal River close to Breyten in Mpumalanga to the mouth of the Orange River at Alexander Bay in the Northern Cape. The team will be engaging with local communities on river conservation, with a focus on education and biodiversity.
ABOUT THE TEAM
Troy Glover hails from Wemindji, Canada – Ice Road Truckers country. His spring hobby is to monitor pack-ice forecasts and when conditions are right he launches his ocean kayak into James Bay, dodging ice bergs on multiday expeditions. Troy is a teacher with a B.Sc. in a water related discipline and he is passionate about experiential education, especially with First Nations students. His education and science background with his passion for conservation will be invaluable on this trip.
Franz Fuls is the expedition leader. Based in Ermelo, close to the Source of the Vaal he has witnessed the slow deterioration of the environment along the headwaters of the Vaal River.
Franz is an industrial engineer, freelance investigative journalist and adventure sport fanatic (rock climbing and white water kayaking).
Brett Merchant, a prospector from Adelaide, Australia with adventure in his blood. Brett did a source to sea expedition of the Murray River in Australia in 2013, mostly solo. His experience on this journey of similar length will be very valuable, and Brett will lighten up the trip with his home grown Australian humour and will maintain the balance between conservation and industrial growth needs with his career background.
ABOUT WESSA – OUR PARTNER NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION
WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is a South African
environmental organisation which aims to initiate and support high impact environmental
and conservation projects to promote public participation in caring for the Earth.
For almost 90 years WESSA has proactively engaged with the challenges and opportunities
presented by South Africa’s unique natural heritage and the social and economic systems
that depend on it.
The environmental crisis that we face is directly the result of how humans live on this
planet: this human centred crisis requires a human centred response. WESSA believes
that working towards meaningful and sustainable capacity building solutions together is the
most effective and inclusive way of bringing about the social change required to enable
individuals, communities and government to make more sustainable lifestyle and
environmental management choices.
WESSA is a Section 21 company registered as an Incorporated Association not for gain.