They say that future wars will be fought over water, not oil. Or maybe I’ve been reading too many post-apocalyptic YA fiction? Whether that’s true or not, what is very true is that we need to protect our fresh water supplies, not just for now but for the future. Water is something that we take for granted in the Western world .... until it stops coming out of our taps. Living on a farm we are dependent on the smooth running of our borehole pump. We are dependent on the underground aquifer or stream that our borehole takes water from. If the pump breaks, or nightmare scenario, if the water level falls, our taps don’t flow any more. We have rain water barrels to fall back on, but we get that pump fixed pretty darned quick. Without water from underground we couldn’t live here, unless we got a whole lot better at storing our winter rain for all year use.
So this is a long introduction to explain why I was so dismayed to hear about the recent decision to re-zone a part of the Philippi Horticultural Area for building. The PHA is a large agricultural area within the Cape Town city area. It grows about 50% of the city’s fresh produce. Not just fancy salads for Woolies, but the staples like cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots. It also acts as a clean water catchment area feeding the winter rains into a major aquifer. This aquifer is vital to provide fresh water to all the surrounding communities.
To get a better feel of the importance of the area watch this video where Rob Small and Nazeer Sonday talk about their campaign to save the PHA, (here's their Avaaz petition to sign) and why it's so important to all of us.
Cape Town is lucky in that is has plenty of good water – that is why it was settled in the first place. But the city is growing so much that existing water supplies are being put under pressure. The last thing the city needs is to compromise a major water collection area like this. Building on the land would divert most of the rainfall to storm water drains, probably resulting in worse flooding elsewhere and wasting all that water. And that heart-string cry of ‘housing for the poor’? Well there is other land available to build on in the area, land that is not such good agricultural land, nor so important for water catchment either. And the houses proposed by the private developers who want to build are unlikely to be aimed at the very poor either. So let’s concentrate on the main issue here.
Food security is another crucial issue at stake here. With transport costs rising practically every day, it makes economic sense to grow produce as close to local markets as possible. That is what the PHA provides. A place within the city that supplies half of the fresh produce needed to feed its people. It gives the poorer communities in the area access to fresh vegetables at reasonable prices sold directly by street sellers and small local stores, and it supplies the big supermarkets in the city too. Take away this prime agricultural land for building and what do you get? Food must be grown further away, transport costs escalate, food prices go up too and many more people can no longer afford to buy fresh food.
This isn’t just about the very poor no longer affording fresh vegetables, the truth is that many of them already can’t. Beyond that there are plenty of people with steady, reasonably paid jobs who are struggling with grocery bills and finding it difficult to feed their children properly. Since we came to South Africa in 2002 our average weekly shopping bill has not just doubled... it has quadrupled. And that is with me being a canny housewife and cutting down over the years, not going on a foodie spree! Plus we have a veggie garden and fruit trees to supplement our shopping. So I don’t know how those on the minimum wage manage to feed themselves and their children any more. Wages certainly haven’t gone up by even half in that time.
Back to the Philippi Horticultural Area - the development plans seem to have crept under the radar almost until it was too late. The re-zoning of 300ha has had preliminary approval by the mayor and is due to go to the next level. The Save the PHA campaign is starting to gain traction but it needs the support of everyone to get taken seriously by the people who make the decisions. So please, please sign the Avaaz petition here – let’s reach the initial goal of 10,000 signatures. Sign and share with everyone you know.
It’s not just Capetonians who should be getting worried. It’s everyone world over who cares about our future – who cares that we and our children and our neighbours' children will have fresh water and fresh food to eat in 20 years, in 50 years. Let’s hope that we can do enough now so that we all still have enough water then not to need to fight any wars over it.
Sign the Avaaz petition to save the PHA here. And please share it on with everyone you know!
More facts on the PHA application here.
And read Sarah Duff's piece about the PHA and a second one asking why Cape Town foodies aren't already out there protesting.