Pretoria - Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has called on all South Africans to step up efforts to protect biodiversity, which supports a massive proportion of the country's livelihood.
"Our vast wealth of biodiversity - our variety of life from genes, species and ecosystems, offers us a suite of natural solutions in the face of unemployment, rising poverty and climate change," Molewa said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the launch of the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011 report, during International Day for Biodiversity celebrations at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Molewa said biodiversity was the basis for human and socio-economic development. She warned that failure to protect it was self-defeating, and the biggest losers in the end would be the rural poor.
"This is because many of our communities are directly dependent on biodiversity and ecosystems services. Ecosystems supply food and fuel, clean our air and water, and help regulate our climate... In short, they provide a wide range of ... ecosystem services upon which our well-being and livelihoods as humanity depends.
"The benefits of biodiversity, or the natural capital as it is known, are estimated at R73 billion, contributing to 7% of South Africa's GDP per annum. This is our competitive edge in growing our economy and addressing climate change adaptation."
The 2011 report is a comprehensive technical assessment of South Africa's biodiversity and ecosystems across terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine environments.
The assessment focuses on spatial biodiversity information including species and ecosystems. It processes key aspects of South Africa's biodiversity science and makes the information available in a useful context to policymakers, decision-makers and practitioners in a range of sectors.
"The assessment lays the foundation for effective management of biodiversity and for monitoring our progress against national and global targets. In addition, this assessment hopes to capture the challenges and opportunities embedded in South Africa's rich natural heritage by looking at biodiversity in the context of social and economic change and recognising the relationship between people and their environment," explained Molewa.
She said that at iSimangaliso, government had created a new model for biodiversity conservation-led development, which recognises that in order to achieve socio-economic imperatives and government priorities, parks like iSimangaliso must conserve exceptional biodiversity, while at the same time create responsible forms of growth, job creation and alleviating poverty.
Since its establishment in 2000, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority has made significant progress in conserving iSimangaliso's world heritage site values, contributing to economic empowerment and growing regional tourism.
More than R116 million has been spent by iSimangaliso on park infrastructure, day visitor facilities and upgrading of tourism facilities. Thousands of local jobs have been created and local SMMEs have been employed.
Through the land care programme, 1 550 alien species have been cleared and 3 500 temporary jobs have been created.
In addition, a bursary programme supports 45 students in tertiary institutions studying tourism and conservation related courses. All students are reportedly progressing well, with no dropouts recorded.
22 May is International Day for Biodiversity. It is dedicated to the preservation of life on earth.