Water connects and sustains all forms of life, and is fundamental to all socio-ecological systems. In the Limpopo Basin, riverine and wetland systems are highly vulnerable, particularly in the Olifants River Catchment. Climate change and its impacts on rainfall frequency and intensity further threatens these systems. Large areas of the catchment have been substantially modified and the upper catchment is almost totally transformed through agriculture and mining with the latter increasing significantly in the last decade even across former agricultural areas. The Olifants River flows into the Limpopo River and the Maputoland-Tongoland Ecoregion, an area of rich biodiversity and endemism which includes the Limpopo River estuary. Currently, the Olifants River is the only tributary that sustains flows of the Limpopo River in the dry season. Declining water quality and decreased flows threaten aquatic systems along the entire Olifants River within South Africa and to the Xai Xai estuary in Mozambique.
A number of ecosystems are considered either critically endangered or endangered and many more are vulnerable. In Mozambique, the estuarine area is classified as a National Maritime Ecosystem Priority area. Equally, the mainstem of the Olifants River is regarded as critically endangered from its source to the protected areas in the Lowveld. Likewise almost all westerly-flowing rivers in the high and middle-veld are critically endangered. Intact river systems are limited to the Blyde and some tributaries of the Steelpoort and the lower Olifants. With over 600 former or existing mines (coal and platinum in particular), pollution impacts are felt in both the terrestrial and aquatic systems and on human livelihoods. The discharge effluent from many of the 100 plus waste-water treatment works (public and private), many of which are struggling to meet national standards, as well as illegal dumping in rivers and streams, impacts on the aquatic systems downstream and again on peoples’ livelihoods. Livelihoods directly dependent upon the rivers of the Limpopo Basin include activities such as fishing, irrigation, tourism, and all of the basic household needs for water. The Olifants Catchment is a particular concern given that it is the largest contributor of flows to the transboundary Limpopo River. Most rivers in this catchment continue to degrade in both quality and quantity. Given that these rivers form part of international systems, the implications are of wider significance than for South Africa alone.
Mantel S.K., D.A. Hughes and A.S. Slaughter (2015) Water resources management in the context of future climate and development changes: A South African case study. Journal for Water and Climate doi:10.2166/wcc.2015.098.
Catchment Specific Resources
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