Leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari supports the call for ecological restoration, which is the theme for World Environment Day 2021 on Saturday 5 June, as being critical in addressing the infrastructure, development and sustainability challenges in Africa. “This is critical not only for key issues like water security, but also for sustainability and development in general and for adapting to climate change,” comments Zutari Technical Director James Cullis.
An example of Zutari’s commitment to supporting ecological restoration in Africa is that it has been providing planning and engineering support for the Working for Wetlands programme for over ten years in South Africa. It has also undertaken numerous studies that highlight the benefits of protecting catchments and the management of invasive alien plants in terms of maintaining water security.
Wetlands are high-value ecosystems that serve as natural infrastructure. Recent studies indicate that between 35% and 60% of South Africa’s wetlands have already been lost or are severely degraded. The Working for Wetlands programme is a government initiative that focuses on the rehabilitation, wise use and protection of wetlands in a manner that maximises employment creation, supports small businesses and transfers relevant and marketable skills to beneficiaries.
“The benefits of ecological restoration have also been integrated into our water resources management and planning projects, including catchment management strategies and rural infrastructure guidelines in Malawi and the National Water Resources plans for Kenya,” adds Cullis.
At the end of 2020, Zutari made a submission to the Global Water Changemakers Award on its history of supporting investments in ecological infrastructure for water security across Africa. This was subsequently shortlisted as one of only three projects from Africa to be put forward for a People’s Choice Award at the global Climate Adaptation Summit (CAP) held in January.
One of the other two projects also involved Zutari as part of a team to develop Flood Risk Management solutions for the Lower Shire River in Malawi. This project highlighted the importance of ecological infrastructure, particularly catchments and wetlands, in mitigating increasing flood risks in Africa.
Ecological restoration is also a critical component of asset transformation and mine closure in Africa. Zutari is currently involved with the Rietspruit Colliery closure in Mpumalanga, where underground operations ceased in November 2001 and the opencast reserve was depleted during May 2002 before the full-time rehabilitation phase commenced.
Another initiative is the Bokamoso Ba Rona Agri-Industrial and Community Development Project. This is a multi-stakeholder initiative to promote sustainable economic activity by developing a large-scale agriculture and bio-energy hub in the greater West Rand district. It will create new business opportunities and increased employment and economic empowerment by focusing on agriculture skills transfer and development.
Zutari is a member of the Impact Catalyst initiative in collaboration with Anglo American, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Exxaro, Office of the Premier (OTP) in Limpopo, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and World Vision South Africa. The initiative is driving socio-economic development through public-private partnerships to strengthen local communities and promote long-term sustainability.
Elsewhere in Africa in Nigeria, Zutari is working on the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project to reduce vulnerability to soil erosion in targeted sub-watersheds and other water resources projects across Africa. The severity of environmental degradation prompted the Nigerian government to seek urgent support from the World Bank to tackle the challenge in seven states on a pilot basis, namely Abia, Anambra, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu and Imo.
Ecological restoration is a critical part of adapting to climate change. In Uganda, Zutari is assisting with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) revision to define additional adaptation and emission reduction targets in the transport, industry and waste sectors to meet the 22% reduction target by 2030.
World Environment Day will also see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Healthier ecosystems with richer biodiversity yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish and larger stores of greenhouse gases.
“Ecological restoration is critical to achieving a ‘resilience dividend’ due to the many co-benefits that can be attributed to functional ecosystems as part of an integrated solution to address the current and future development challenges, particularly in Africa,” concludes Cullis.