Johannesburg - With climate change now widely recognised as the major environmental problem facing the world, the South African government is taking awareness to schools with plans to incorporate more environmental studies into the school curricula.
Projects to curb climate change are also being designed and will be made available to all schools across the country, according to Basic Education Deputy Minister Enver Surty. He said officials were working on making sure that environment awareness formed part of and was central to all school curricula.
"We all know by now that we have a problem of climate change and everybody is talking about it so we are using all platforms to redirect the attention of our young people to the importance of conserving the environment and making sure that we mitigate the impacts of the problem," Surty said at the third annual Youth Water Summit organised by the Water Affairs Department on Tuesday.
With South Africa hosting the 17th UN Congress of Parties (COP 17) on climate change in a few months time, the Water Summit, which started last week, gave the floor to young citizens from all nine provinces and several SADC countries to share and discuss water and the need to save the environment. They all agreed that it was up to them to reverse the damage caused by global warming to the climate and committed to save the world for future generations.
Water Affairs Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi conceded that water shortages and climate change were among the greatest challenges to South Africa's development.
Analysts are even predicting that at the current population growth and economic development rates, it was unlikely that the projected demand on water resources in South Africa will be sustainable into the future.
The problem had been worsened by unreliable rainfall, demand from agriculture and industries. Added to that is the widespread introduction and spread of alien tree and plant species, which officials say have a great impact in water shortage. Municipalities have also been forced to impose water restrictions in most parts of the country.
"We started the youth summit as part of our vision 2020, with the knowledge that if we don't do something now and educate the young about the importance of protecting water and the environment, we may be in trouble ... We want to instil that knowledge in them that water is important in their lives," said Mabudafhasi.
She noted that South Africa's population and its economy were increasing at a steady rate while water levels remained the same.
"If our water resources are not well managed, protected, conserved and developed in a sustained manner, we will have a crisis," she said.
The problem of water shortage could also mean South Africa may not be able to achieve its Millennium Development Goals, as set out by the United Nations.
The summit was being used as a platform to educate school going children about the impacts of climate change, with programmes launched in rural schools across the country since it was introduced three years ago.
They include 281 computers that have been distributed to schools in Limpopo, North West, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga. Learners use the computers to understand the importance of science and climate.
According to Mabudafhasi, about 86 bursaries had been awarded to learners to study towards water related careers.
"Our focus now is going to be ensuring that schools participate in this programme and implement the proposed solutions and become model schools in water resource management," she said.
Meanwhile, Mabudfhasi expressed confidence that South Africa's round of climate negotiations will be able to produce "positive results" that will build on the achievements of both the Copenhagen and Cancun talks.
"Our negotiators have been working very hard and we are happy with the level of talks as we have seen in Bonn (Germany) and yes, we are positive that Durban will signal a new direction in the fight against global warming if we all work together towards a common goal."
Mabudafhasi stressed the importance of a united front by the developing nations, saying Africa needed to stand its ground.
"Rich nations need to come here with the understanding that ... they need to take responsibility [for climate] as much as we also need to take some," said Mabudafhasi.
She demanded less red tape and fewer conditions, "otherwise the talks may become another set of empty promises."
According to the World Bank, mitigation of climate change effects in developing countries will cost between $140 billion and $175 billion per year by 2030, while adaptation costs were expected to reach anything between $75 billion and $100 billion in the period leading to 2050.