Coca-Cola invests in water replenishment

The Coca-Cola Foundation has set aside US$ 1 275 million (about R18 million) in support of five projects aimed at removing alien plants and replenishing millions of litres of water in South Africa’s key catchment areas

The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) – a company resource established in 2009 to address water challenges on the continent – has launched a new, multi-million-rand project: the clearing of invasive, alien plants from five of South Africa’s main water catchment areas.

Speaking last month in Johannesburg at the announcement of the project, Barbara Creecy, Minister of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, said alien vegetation consumed millions of litres of water each year in catchment areas that fed major cities and towns, resulting in water shortages and permanent loss to an already-stressed water system.

“Creating and maintaining our water security is not the work of one or two government departments, municipalities or state-owned entities – it is the work of the nation. Water security is everyone’s business,” she said.

Through RAIN, the Coca-Cola Foundation has invested US$ 1 275 million (about R18 million) in the multi-pronged project with a view to replenishing up to 2 800-million litres of water that would otherwise be consumed by invasive vegetation. Two initiatives will run in the greater Cape Town region, with others near Matatiele in the Eastern Cape; the Langkloof near Port Elizabeth and the Soutpansburg in Limpopo.

Local communities will be involved in the clearing of vegetation and in rehabilitation aspects, contributing to job creation. Each of the projects will be administered separately by organisations affiliated to RAIN – the Nature Conservancy, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Living Lands and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

“Over the next five years we must continue to grow our efforts,” Creecy said. “First, we need to work together to improve stream and river-related ecological infrastructure by clearing invasive alien plant infestations, especially in mountain catchments and riparian areas, and by reinstating, restoring, rehabilitating and maintaining the buffers of natural vegetation along streams and rivers.

“Second, we must improve wetland and estuary-related ecological infrastructure through restoration and rehabilitation. Third, we must ensure that our programme to expand protected areas includes the formal protection of key water-catchment areas.”

Luis Avellar, general manager of the South African franchise for Coca-Cola, said the company’s investment was aimed at providing a cost-effective solution to managing water security.  “It is designed to address issues upstream in a cost effective and locally appropriate way, rather than downstream with prohibitively expensive solutions such as groundwater extraction or desalination.”

He said that while the projects were geographically diverse, they would help to support economic empowerment and skills development in rural areas. In total, 130 people would be employed to clear more than 750 hectares of land.

According to Avellar, the latest project builds on two other RAIN initiatives – in 2018, the Coca-Cola Foundation provided seed funding for the Nature Conservancy’s Greater Cape Town Water Fund on the Atlantis Aquifer. The project has since been expanded to employ more than 50 women and young people. It will conclude at the end of 2019.

The Foundation has also invested in catchment restoration in the Baviaanskloof of the Eastern Cape with implementing partner, Living Lands. The work, concluded in March, successfully restored 1 460 hectares of degraded land. On the back of Coca-Cola’s seed investment, Living Lands has been able to raise funding to provide operational security for the project for a five-year period.

“As climate change disrupts the water system, affecting supplies of drinking water, sanitation, food and energy production, the Coca-Cola Foundation and its local implementing partners are leading the way in strategic investments to manage key watersheds,” Avellar said. “The most effective work happens when there is collaboration across the public and private spheres for the benefit of the local communities.”

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