Speech notes: Climate change and Covid-19

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Speaker, in 2011 the Eastern Cape Provincial Government revealed its Climate Change Response Strategy at COP17. This 350-page document dealt with both the key climate change risks as well as the priority response options to climate change. This strategy stated that:

“Climate change projections indicate that the Eastern Cape is expected to experience higher temperature increases towards the north-west interior of the Province. Increasing temperatures are likely to result in increases in evaporation rates, and the possibility of drought”.

Speaker, this was written nine years ago! Since then, all this document has done has gathered dust until I picked it up again, to prepare for this session.

Nine years ago, this government knew that there was a likelihood that climate change could severely affect the north-west regions of this Province, leading to severe and prolonged drought conditions.

Speaker, for the past five years vast areas within the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, but more specifically communities in Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen, Willowmore and Jansenville have been grappling with one of the most severe droughts on record.

Hundreds of farmers in this region, both emerging and commercial, have been decimated by the effects of this prolonged drought. Many of our rural towns ran out of water and if it was not for private well-doers such as Gift of the Givers, residents in towns such as Graaff-Reinet, Bedford and Adelaide would have literally died of thirst.

This provincial government knew, and they did nothing! No plans were put in place, in fact, I doubt whether the provincial government has even paid any attention to the advices and directives of the response strategy after COP17.

Yet today, here we are again, debating climate change, this time however, with the emphasis of the COVID-19 pandemic in mind.

Speaker, the saying goes forewarned is forearmed. Climate Change is not coming. It is here already. Whilst climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, we are certainly not alone in our struggle against a changing environment which could potentially have far-reaching consequences for our Province and its people.

However, whilst the Province is currently still grappling with a debilitating drought, we need to ask ourselves how we responded as a government to the plight of our people during this environmental disaster.

Speaker, the answer to that is woeful. The residents of the Sarah Baartman, Chris Hani and Amatole Districts last year begged the honourable Premier for months to declare a Provincial state of disaster. When he eventually did declare the Provincial State of Disaster, he allowed it lapse in January.

During this time, COGTA was almost nowhere in assisting towns such as Graaff-Reinet, Middelburg, Bedford and Adelaide with drought mitigation. As said previously, it was also often just the private well-doers that helped fund the drilling of boreholes, as well as supplying the associated water infrastructure.

Many of the drought-plagued municipalities such as Nelson Mandela Bay, encountered severe problems with the spending of their Drought Mitigation funding. Again, Cogta was nowhere to be found in assisting them.

In fact, so inadequate was the response and assistance to affected municipalities by Eastern Cape COGTA, the Department of Water Affairs had to step in and commit an amount of R50-million themselves, as well as assisting these municipalities with the carting of water to certain communities. Imagine the national Department of Water Affairs helping out to ensure basic service delivery in Eastern Cape municipalities because COGTA is too incompetent to attend to same on their own front door! Skande!

Worst still, is the fact that when I submitted a formal set of questions to COGTA over the extent of the drought, the department white washed answers provided by the Department of Water Affairs in their response to me. Luckily for me, DWA also supplied me with a copy of the original responses, which differed substantially from what was provided by the department.

The point I am trying to make here, Speaker, is that not only is our responsiveness towards natural disasters as a result of climate change woeful, we are also ill-prepared to deal with the effects of said disasters as a government. In addition, there are people within the administration that will intentionally mislead the public over the extent of the crisis and provide disinformation.

Furthermore, the fact that DRDAR has basically left our farmers to their own devices without providing meaningful support in the form of fodder relief, or financial resources to drill boreholes, is unacceptable. In areas such as Steytlerville, Rietbron and Willowmore boreholes are drying up Speaker.

It is a disgrace that we can have a debate on climate change, but when are already experiencing the effects of climate change, this government has elected to look the other way.

Speaker, also highlighting our callous attitude towards climate change is the irresponsible way in which we deal with our water resources.

Water and sanitation services in many municipalities across the Eastern Cape have collapsed. Take the Chris Hani District Municipality for example, their mismanagement of wastewater treatment plants has resulted in the contamination of many of natural water resources.

I beg the Hon Premier to go to Cradock, Middelburg, Khowa, Komani, Cala, Tsholo and Cofimvaba. Go and see what sewerage filth your residents must live in.

Go and see how natural water resources are being contaminated by this irresponsible municipality. Go and see how millions of litres of untreated sewerage are being dumped into the Fish River, the very same water we receive from the Gariep dam via the Orange-Fish scheme to quench the growing thirst of Nelson Mandela Bay. Go and see for yourself, because your provincial department of COGTA has done nothing to deal with this delinquent municipality for years and you are going to lose municipalities and elections because of this.

Climate change is not coming, it’s already here, Speaker. Now that this matter has been put up for debate again, I trust our actions will speak louder than our words.

As such, I would expect that funding will already be set aside in the forthcoming adjustments budget to deal with the effects of climate change, such as the ongoing drought.

I also trust that now that I have sensitized you to the fact that there is already a policy in place, you will dust it off and actually consider implementing some of the recommendations and solutions.

I thank you.