Using green and grey measures to adapt to climate change
27 June 2022
Gabions are one of the green and grey measures used by this community to adapt to weather patterns that have recently caused flooding.
“We received a donation from one of the local businesses and this is so great”, says Rosie Fortuin with excitement as she leans down to open a black crate. Thanking God, she shows us the donation which includes a three-tool garden kit with a rake, spade and fork, ten packets of seedlings for growing onions, carrots and other vegetables, and two rolls of refuse packets.
To Rosie and her fellow community members in Leliefontein in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, this is a significant and welcomed gesture adding that “now we can plant and give to the poor households and elderly people at the end of the season, yes, tomorrow we will start planting!”
The Northern Cape province has experienced a severe drought over the past seven years. Last year the communities in the province experienced flash flooding. Between the two extremes, the communities are facing water scarcity as well damage to their homes and livelihoods. The province is known for its desert -like conditions as it is home to the Namakwaland area often hot and dry.
However, over the last decade the temperature has soared to temperatures well over 35 degrees thus forcing communities to adapt to even hotter and drier conditions. Through Conservation South Africa, the community has implemented what is termed “green and grey” measures to adapt to the extreme and unpredictable weather patterns.
Following the flood disaster, community members suffered severe losses due to mudslides and the large amounts of water which seeped into their homes destroying their meagre belongings. On climate change, Rosie says that “we thought climate change was an overseas thing but now we see it here.” Community members have since constructed a gabion to mitigate the damage caused by floods.
“We constructed this gabion in order to stop the strength of the water so that it goes slower and slower,” says Rosie as she points to a large construction of rocks and stones near the mountain , further explaining that the gabion construction provides families with time to gather their belongings should the need arise and hopefully prevent the water from reaching and damaging their homes.
Gabions are one of the green and grey measures used by this community to adapt to weather patterns that have recently caused flooding in the area which has led to soil erosion thus affecting agricultural produce. It is termed a green and grey measure as it uses materials from the earth to protect the earth (such as stones and rock material), or the construction is not harmful to the environment and can, in many instances, be beneficial to the environment and the community.
Through the use of this gabion, not only are communities safer from the catastrophic effects of flooding but there is less soil erosion which means less risk of food insecurity for the season. As the Northern Cape is known for its hot and dry weather conditions, the community have constructed other measures to retain as much water as they can during rainfall. They explain that with the flooding,as it was unexpected and they were unprepared, the damage was extensive but they have now constructed another gabion-like feature along a riverbed trail with the aim of collecting water from the rainfall.
This helps to sustain the land, provide water for agricultural and pastoral use as well as provide water to the community.
Conservation South Africa, supported by the UN Environment Programme, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment as well as the South African National Biodiversity Institute mentors and provides training to members of the community in climate adaptation among other issues.
Miranda Gardiner, from Conservation South Africa, says that this community is dependent on farming and the environment “has evolved with grazing and the organization aims to assist the community to become climate resilient against the impact of climate change as the community depends mostly on grants and farming is a supplemental income.”
Speaking on the impact of climate change, Miranda says that one of the nearby villages were flooded barely one month apart with floods in December last year and January 2022, “something that anyone who lives there can remember ever happening in their lives.”
Climate resilience in these communities through the organization involves a healthy ranch and skilled people who have the correct tools with which to build their resilience.
The organization has introduced indigenous genetics and different breeds of livestock such as meat master sheep as they are more resistant to high temperatures, more resistant to disease and the lambs mature earlier to a marketable age and weight and thus spend less time on the ranch.
The organization and the community agree that climate change is here, it’s impact is real and that as the climate changes it is forcing them to become more creative and innovative to sustain their communities and their livelihoods.