Drakensberg to Pietermaritzburg
We stood in the windswept and frosty wetlands of Highmoor Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, huddled near WWF's resilient landscape project manager, Vaughan Koopman.
With the distant sentinels of the cloud-tipped Drakensberg Mountains as his backdrop, he gestured to the damp ground below our feet.
"The start of water's journey begins right here. This whole area is essentially one big sponge. Wetlands like this form the kidneys of our landscape, collecting rainfall before it's filtered into rivers, dams and reservoirs downstream."
"They are extremely important in terms of catching erosion, assimilating certain types of pollution, and removing microbial pollution that's exposed to UV light when the water rises to the surface," says Koopman.
It was incredible to look down and think that the ground we were standing on held the water that would soon flow from taps in local municipalities to the south.
But because three quarters of South Africans can turn on a tap and receive fresh, good quality drinking water, we often take it for granted.
“And that's what the Journey of Water is about: making us think about the epic journey water needs to take in order to reach our taps, and the threats it faces along the way. ”
And that's what the Journey of Water is about: making us think about the epic journey water needs to take in order to reach our taps, and the threats it faces along the way.
In South Africa, research conducted by WWF South Africa and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with funding from Sanlam, revealed that only 8% of the land area in South Africa generates half our river flow.
Some of the major threats to these ecosystems include climate change, large-scale plantation and land degradation. Conservation groups like the South African Environmental Observation Network are working with WWF to predict weather patterns and how these may affect vegetation and water flow through water catchment areas.
During the official opening ceremony, charismatic deputy minister of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Pamela Tshwete (who encouraged the group to call her Pam, as it made her feel younger), remarked how every one of us has the ability to become water ambassadors - to use our influence, no matter how big or small, to remind others never to take fresh water for granted.
By reading this and understanding that water does not come from a tap, and that saving water is a shared responsibility - that ability extends to you.
"Water is life. There is nothing you can do without water, and there is no substitute for it. Water and sanitation is everyone's business, and campaigns like the Journey of Water highlight the importance of government, NGOs, the community and private enterprise partnerships to protect our water sources together," said Tshwete.
“Water is life. There is nothing you can do without water, and there is no substitute for it. Water and sanitation is everyone's business... ”
CEO of Business and Arts South Africa, Michelle Constant, shared a philosophical thought as we traversed the beautiful natural landscape of Highmoor Reserve:
"If the human body is made up of about 75% water, why don't we care for this precious resource more?" Water for thought.
At the end of the day, the heavens opened and drenched us weary walkers as we climbed the final hill. After everything we had heard, it was fitting to actually witness how the ground swelled with this precious life-giving liquid almost immediately, ready to continue its journey downstream.
But that's a story for another day.