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By Alma C. Horton


The paper is going to consider such environmental problems in South Africa as land degradation and freshwater scarcity. Beside that, the causes for these problems are going to be described. Also, the possible solutions are to be considered together with the measures that have already been taken by the South Africa’s government. In addition, the same environmental problems are going to be discussed with regard to other countries in the world, and also the paper is going to discuss the solutions of these problems created in the countries under discussion.

As far as the new technologies develop and the great amount of plants and factories are being built all over the world, a lot of attention nowadays is paid to the issues connected with the environment and its protection. The development of industry, the growth of population as well as globalization and urbanization result in environmental degradation. “Such environmental problems as land degradation, deforestation, declining of marine resources and water scarcity of deteriorating of water and air quality are on the priority list in Africa.” (Sandon, October 27, 2006)

This paper is intended to discuss the environmental issues in one of the parts of the African continent – the South Africa, and to consider possible solutions for these problems that may cause serious repercussions either for people of South Africa or for the environment of the country.

South Africa is abundant in natural resources but their consuming as well as inefficient maintenance of agriculture or irrigation causes environmental problems that can have unconvertible results. These problems are: the outcomes of the mining industry operation in the area, land and water shortages that may operate changes in agriculture, soil erosion that happens because of the high rate of runoff of the South African rivers and building a lot of dams on the rivers, over-cultivation of land that happened because of the historical circumstances, and finally, air pollution happening because of cooking and heating using coal. (Byrnes, 1996)

And the paper is going to view in detail such environmental issues as land degradation and freshwater scarcity in South Africa.

“‘Deserfication’ is another word for degradation of the land in dry areas of the world, primarily caused by human activities. Desertification is not the spread of existing deserts: it is the destruction of productive land in dry areas mainly because of misuse or overuse.” (“Land Degradation”, n.d.) Land desertification is not only South Africa’s problem, this process is happening all over the world, in 99 countries. The process of desertification lies in destroying the capacity of soil to grow crops and support livestock. There can be many reasons for the land desertification, but the most important and dangerous is people’s wrong stance on the soil exploitation. They put “too much pressure on delicate soils and ecosystems in ‘dry-land’ areas. Land degradation of this sort happens in areas of the world which are already dry and where there is often little rain, so the soil is already fragile. The UN calls these areas ‘arid, semi-arid or sub-arid’- in other words, hot and dry.” (“Land Degradation”, n.d.) Consequently, if the land is that fragile overuse can destroy it. Overgrazing, for instance, causes stripping the soil of its vegetation and thus causes erosion by water or wind. Beside that, deforestation that is a serious environmental issue in itself may cause land degradation as trees hold the land together and also help watering it by channeling the rainwater into the soil. When the trees are logged-off the soil gets eroded and unable to hold water. Other causes are intensive arable farming as well as poor irrigation.

“Land degradation is a huge problem in South Africa. The UN Environment Programme classifies more than 90 % of the country as arid, semi-arid or sub-humid.” (“Land Degradation”, n.d.) South Africa’s National Botanical Institute proves that the soil in 25% of magisterial districts in South Africa is degraded. As it was mentioned above, the historical circumstances make a figure in land degradation. And these historical circumstances lie in the legacy of apartheid. “Desertification is exacerbated by inequitable land ownership.” (“Land Degradation”, n.d.) As a result, the former homeland areas suffer from the most land degradation – it was overgrazed and over-cropped for years.

Another environmental issue under discussion is freshwater scarcity in South Africa.

“South Africa’s available freshwater resources are already almost fully-utilised and under stress.” (“Freshwater Systems and Resources”, October, 1999) According to all predictions, water is going to become the limiting resource in South Africa, and this lack of freshwater is supposed to become a serious limitation to the social and economic development of South Africa. “At present many water resources are polluted by industrial effluents, domestic and commercial sewage, acid mine drainage, agricultural runoff and litter.” (“Freshwater Systems and Resources”, October, 1999)

What are the forces that affect the freshwater ecosystems in South Africa? One of them is the climate of the country. Its peculiarity is low rainfall rates and also high evaporation rates which result in low runoffs. Another force is the growth of population and as a result, the need for the economic development and meeting all the basic needs of the people. The result for this is a great water demand and the growth of pollution of the resources that are available for consumption. One more force that is also very important is the policy connected with the national management of the water resources. And beside that, the policy that is connected with the land use influences water quality and its availability as well.

As is obvious, the environmental problems discussed above are serious and some solutions have to be found to prevent the situation from getting worse or even inconvertible. Thus, hereinafter, the possible measures to improve the situation are going to be discussed.

It is impossible to omit mention of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. It was adopted in 1994 by the UN. “The Convention gives priority to Africa, and it commits every government that signs it to draw up a national strategy

to deal with land degradation, to allocation sufficient funds to tackle the problem, and – crucially – to consult local people before any decisions are taken.” (“Land Degradation”, n.d.) The government, together with the representatives of 124 countries-members of the Convention, works on the land restoring. As far as the local population is also involved into the project, the people are being educated about the problem and its solutions.

The government can take into consideration climatic and environmental conditions. The priority can be given to stock-breeding and forestry. As for the local measures, the farmers’ families can be given the land for the grass seeding and tree planting. The local families can also be given land for agricultural production. As far as the education is going to be held, the system of the responsible farming can be created. Thus, due to the shifting from the natural economy to the market economy can result in the change from the extensive land-use to the intensive land management. Beside that, the population enlargement can be controlled, for instance, the legislation controlling marriages in mature age can be taken.

As far as the freshwater scarcity is concerned, the possible way out of the situation can be looking towards water supplies in other countries, such as Lesotho. But there is the risk of the international dependency and thus this measure can be taken as the last extreme measure. “Other possible sources of water, such as desalinization of seawater and water from icebergs may be potential options in the long-term, although currently they are too expensive to exploit.” (“Freshwater Systems and Resources”, October, 1999) Other solutions can be the following. The treated waste water can be reused for agriculture, and the used water can be made at lower costs for the farmers than the fresh water. One more solution can be better managing existing supplies. Traditional knowledge can be used but it has to be integrated with the innovative science. Consequently, some research is supposed to be conducted. But new technologies are not enough, beside that, the adequate legislation has to be created and relevant governmental structures are supposed to be operating to find the appropriate solution.

It has to be noted that South Africa is not the only country that suffers from land degradation and freshwater scarcity. For instance, the Garwhal region of the western Himalaya fights the same problem and non-participation of the people has transformed into tokenism and then to partnership. A self-help project has been created there, the community leaders gather as a coordination committee. “The upstream villages immediately ceased fecal contamination of Chandrabhaga and in turn the downstream villages agreed to regulate grazing into upstream farmlands. The next action was to realign irrigation channels and check-damns in such a way that water wastage is reduced and crop application efficiency improved. Additional storage tanks and irrigation channels were constructed, with material and labor contribution from the beneficiary households” (“Conflict and Participation in Community Based Fresh Water Resource Management”, January 27, 1998)

As for the problem of land degradation, Australia suffers from it to a great degree. “Since the early 1970s, there has been an increasing awareness of and concern for environmental issues in Australia. These concerns have found expression in a broad range of community led activities. They have also led to legislation, regulation and expenditure by governments, at national, state and local level.” (“Australian Actions to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation”, April, 2002) And in spite of all the government’s efforts and the policy initiatives Australia still has challenges to overcome and thus the government has to involve regional communities and landlords into the initiatives that are supposed to improve the situation. Beside that, Australian government has created the integrated package of mutually reinforcing measures that includes controlling the use of water supplies and improvement of their quality, improvement of the vegetation management, measures to encourage reservation and remediation, and creating voluntary community programs targeted at reducing land degradation.

Consequently, the conclusion can be made, that environmental problems are serious but they can be solved. The solution can be found if the government is able to cooperate with the local communities as together using the legislation as well as the local initiatives they can manage and thus solve the abovementioned environmental problems.


1. Australian Actions to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation. (April, 2002). Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://www.environment.gov.au/land/publications/actions/domestic1.html

2. Byrnes, Rita M. South Africa: A Country Study.  (1996). Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://countrystudies.us/south-africa/42.htm

3. Conflict and Participation in Community Based Fresh Water Resource Management: The Case of Chandrabhaga Stream in Garhwal Himalaya, Uttarpradesh. (January 27, 1998). Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://srdis.ciesin.columbia.edu/cases/india-002.html

4. Freshwater Systems and Resources. (October, 1999). Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://www.ngo.grida.no/soesa/nsoer/issues/water/

5. Land Degradation. (n.d.) Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://www.botany.uwc.ac.za/Inforeep/land1.htm

6. Sandon, A. Environmental Problems in Africa. (October 27, 2006). Retrieved 10 July, 2007 from http://www.articlesbase.com/environment-articles/environmental-problems-in-africa-67595.html