The uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP), a catchment-wide partnership, celebrated five years of existence and the recent signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between its 24 partner organisations with a two-day programme that detailed its progress to date and the way forward for the partnership.
Fifty delegates, representing the organisations which signed the UEIP MoU, gathered to reflect, appreciate and celebrate the partnership’s collaborative and co-ordination efforts over the past five-years. Various speakers shared success stories and challenges and discussed the future for the partnership.
Speakers emphasised how relationships between UEIP partners had strengthened and expanded over the course of the partnership, calling it a ‘learning organisation’ that utilises the expertise and capacities from partner organisations to create solutions to challenges and issues around the protection of various ecological infrastructure (EI) components making up the catchment area.
The UEIP, which is co-ordinated by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), focuses on the role that EI can play to supplement and/or substitute for built infrastructure to address water security challenges in the catchment area. EI can, partners say, ensure that living landscapes deliver good quality water of adequate supply both for ecological benefit and for the economic and social benefit of people living in the catchment.
The uMngeni catchment is severely degraded and boasts some of the most polluted rivers in the country. The UEIP focuses on co-design and co-management among managers to preserve a system at risk of collapse.
The UEIP includes a strong research programme spearheaded by UKZN and the Water Research Commission (WRC). Research produced by UKZN and the WRC has focused on contributing to policy development, emphasising that catchment care and investment in EI are among the key intervention options to address degradation, maintain water supply volumes and improve the water quality of river basins.
Other partner organisations include provincial and local government, academic institutions, research institutions and business and civil society such as the KwaZulu-Natal Departments of Water and Sanitation and of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Umgeni Water, the eThekwini Municipality, uMgungundlovu and Msunduzi municipalities, the Institute of Natural Resources, and the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa.
The MoUs signed in 2013 and again at the end of 2018 formalised the interest of partners in finding ways of protecting and restoring natural water resources in the uMngeni catchment area.
UEIP partner organisations are looking ahead to building relationships with more organisations and developing capacity through the training of young people as well as engaging and partnering with business and industries to improve and manage EI. Partners will also focus on engaging rural and peri-urban communities, creating projects that will benefit communities.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Pearl Gola