Working for Water hailed

John Yeld

THE WORKING for Water programme is the biggest conservation programme in Africa and creates a huge number of jobs – but it’s not keeping the spread of water-guzzling invasive alien plants throughout SA in check.

Also, the spending of its substantial budget is not being properly prioritised. More funds should be allocated to biological control methods for alien species to achieve greater returns of “ecosystem services” like clean water and maintaining biodiversity, rather than concentrating on job creation.

These are some of the key findings of an assessment of the innovative programme that was launched in 1995.

The assessment, recently published in an academic journal, was presented to the Fynbos Forum conference in Cape St Francis yesterday by one of the authors, Dr Brian van Wilgen of the CSIR. Van Wilgen said Working for Water was “a really good idea” and had made “enormous progress … but we have to learn from our mistakes and get better”.

National programme leader Dr Guy Preston said Working for Water was arguably the most significant, important and successful conservation programme in SA’s history.

The programme had started with just R25 million in 1995 and now had a massive R4 billion budget over three years, Preston said.

He pointed out that that the current return on the investment in terms of the value of the water saved had been independently estimated at an “extraordinary” R453bn.