Project: Advancing water and income security in the unique Maputaland Coastal Plain

ASSET Research, in collaboration with SAEON as the lead organisation, was awarded funding by the WRC for the project entitled Advancing water and income security in the unique Maputaland Coastal Plain. This project will commence in April 2021.

The Lake Sibaya catchment within Maputaland Coastal Plain (MCP) is unique in that it is a ground water driven system, with no surface rivers importing water into it. Importantly, it is thus entirely dependent on localized rainfall for recharge. Water security within the region has declined significantly over the past two decades, leading to the degradation of water dependent ecosystems and the livelihood services they provide. The net effect is escalating conflict over ecosystems resources which humans use (wetland/swamp forest for cultivation), human use of water (abstraction) and licencing for "Stream Flow" Reduction Activities (SFRA) (commercial forestry). The driest year on record for the area was within this period (2015/16) as well as an anomalous extended dry period, with evidence of extreme temperatures impacting on crop health (Jan 2020). Concurrently, commercial forces try activities have increased in and new initiatives to test alternative agro-forestry crops such as macadamia are emerging. Policy implementation (e.g. SFRA licensing) and mitigation action is being hampered by a perception of limited livelihood alternatives, coupled with significant knowledge gaps in the impact of different land management options on the water resource and the potential occurrence of climate extremes under climate change. No attempt has yet been made to understand these dynamics in relation to the net environmental and economic impact of land use decisions within the region.

In this study we wish to examine the system-wide impacts, using a scenario-based approach, of the combined impacts of changes in climate and land-use/land-cover on the hydrological resources of the MCP, with ensuing feedback. This feedback refers to the effects the hydrological changes have on the livelihoods of people and on land-use decisions in a continuous loop. We do so by making key advancements in the hydrological and climatological knowledge for the MCP and use a system dynamics model to integrate these within an environmental resource economics context. The expected results will render a range of plausible livelihood (socio-economic) impacts of the anticipated changes in climate and resultant hydrology linked to various land-use/land-cover changes. Measures that can help mitigate the environmental and economic consequences of extreme events such as floods, recurrent droughts and heat waves, can thus be identified by understanding the interconnections between land management, climate and economics and the influences of these on the water resource.