Gauteng is becoming vulnerable to floods as development booms

19 October 2017 - 13:17 By Penwell Dlamini
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Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Poorly planned infrastructure is making Gauteng vulnerable to floods‚ as was witnessed recently when storms destroyed buildings and left hundreds homeless.

This is one of the warnings issued by researchers in the State of the Environment Outlook report released by the Gauteng Department of Economic Development‚ Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gillian Maree‚ a researcher at the Gauteng City Region Observatory‚ explained the problem.

“If you think of our wetlands as sponges. If you have a rainful event‚ they hold on to the water and release it slowly. If you now go and build houses‚ buildings or infrastructure on top of the sponge‚ you have an impervious surface. Instead of the water going into the ground‚ it runs off very quickly‚” Maree said.

“A storm water management system is there to get that water to run off our infrastructure very quickly. The pace of development has not kept pace with the ability to build adequate infrastructure. That exacerbates the impact of flooding.”

The report noted that development inevitably disrupted the natural ecological systems and cycles.

“These ecosystem services then need to be replaced by artificial structures and services if the overall quality of the environment is not to be compromised. Unfortunately‚ rapid urban development with little concern for the state of the environment is a characteristic of Gauteng. This has left the province‚ and especially the urban areas‚ struggling with flooding‚ accumulation of pollution and a compromised atmosphere often seen as a brown smog layer‚” the report said.

The report was released by Economic Development MEC Lebogang Maile on Wednesday. The report‚ released every five years‚ details the state of land‚ air‚ and water quality in the province.

One major impact on land and water is the issue of waste management in Gauteng.

The previous report raised a red flag on the amount of awareness‚ monitoring and enforcement of regulation when it comes to waste management.

“Five years later‚ these challenges continue to plague waste management efforts and the situation in some instances deteriorated‚ without any sustainable remedial measures put in place‚” the report said.

“However‚ a significant improvement is noted in respect of the monitoring of waste generation and disposal‚ with the Gauteng Waste Information System (GWIS) now collating data from across the province‚ thereby assisting with the understanding of the waste sector.”

Gauteng generates 35% of South Africa’s total waste‚ despite being significantly smaller than the other provinces.

Researchers noted that the increase in the population of Gauteng and middle-income households had resulted in more goods being consumed and thus more waste being generated.

Over the five-year research period‚ domestic and commercial waste comprised 77% of the province’s total volume of waste. The remaining 23% comprised hazardous waste such as chemical and medical.

General waste in 2012 amounted to around 9 million tonnes‚ increasing to 15.86 million tonnes in 2014. Production of hazardous waste varies from year to year‚ but averages around 4 million tons per annum.

But the report also states that not all waste disposed of within Gauteng is produced in the province.

General and hazardous waste from surrounding provinces and Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries is imported to Gauteng‚ while some is also exported.

When compared to the total amount of waste generated‚ the amount of imported general waste is not significant‚ researchers noted.

However‚ the total imported hazardous waste is equal to around 15% of the total waste generated within the province.

Healthcare waste peaked at 3.28 million tonnes in 2013 and then fell to 1.5 million tonnes in 2015 and 2016.

Between 2012 to 2016‚ recycling of general waste peaked at 6.83 million tons in 2014. Between 30% and 40% of the total general waste produced was recycled. As much as 80% of the total waste recycling in Gauteng takes place in the City of Ekurhuleni.

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