Tag Archive for: drought

The smoke may have cleared, but now the rebuilding of lives begins….


We may have seemed a bit quiet here on the Eco Atlas front lately, but there has been the matter of some firestorms on the Garden Route. It was even on CNN. I think what so many found hard to assimilate is the concept of their holiday paradise burning. How can the Garden of Eden burn? Well actually the Garden of Eden forest didn’t burn because it’s thick indigenous forest which doesn’t naturally burn. But so very much did burn… people’s homes and animal habitats. Having said that about the forest though, we’ve actually been watching a circle of burnt forest grow and grow over the past 6 months as it slow burns underground through the drought dry roots spreading from tree to tree. So indigenous forest can slow burn in these drought conditions. But not like the alien invasive species and exotic plantations of pine, wattle and bluegum, they take burning to a whole other level, literally, quite a few stories higher as anyone who witnessed the flames here will tell you. It’s a wall of fire. And as for the fynbos, well that’s meant to burn every 15 years or so to germinate the seeds and clear the woody old growth. But it burns through fynbos like a flash fire, fast and not too hot so that the creatures who play a part in the life cycle of regeneration after fire can survive.


So we really were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine when our home fell in the path of a firestorm that came out of nowhere on a hot and dry north westerly gusting day 4 months ago. Not quite out of nowhere though, because while there was no smoke when I left home to pick up the children from school, there had been a smouldering fire in the alien stands of trees for weeks which was very tricky for the firefighters to quell due to the density of the trees and the fact that it burns underground. It didn’t matter that we had no alien invasives on our property, once the fire is fuelled by wattle and gum and chooses a path with the wind there is no stopping it.
And now we are joined by so many more climate change refugees here on the Garden Route, statistically it is uncanny how many of my circle of friends have lost their homes to fire, we can literally have a dinner gathering and every single person there will have lost their home. Normal is not part of the equation anymore. And while we plot and plan the rebuild of our home which is soon to begin (and we will document the process for those that need to follow to see how a truly eco, sustainable, efficient and climate resilient home can rise from the blank slate of ashes, watch this space) there are so many who still have a lot to process and a long journey ahead before they have the sanctuary of their own home again.

There were countless questions of how you can help, here is a list of ways to take action:

  • Donate to the following disaster relief, rebuild or animal welfare funds:

knysna donations Plett Fire Donations Final mine

  • Donate to an individual family who needs to rebuild their home, there is a very long list of families to help listed here. You can also have a look at Ana and Gareth, the Reitz family, Erez and Louisa, Peter and Gabriella, James Wolfaardt, Paul and Magic, Gilan and Jos, The Heartland School of Self Sufficiency to mention just a few that I know of or have helped set up. There are many many more families needing support, especially those without insurance, so have a look on the BackaBuddy site.
  • Donate to a group fund for Plett that will focus on the rehabilitation of injured firemen and ensuring the firefighters are properly equipped to fight more fires and any overflow will go to those who have lost their homes.
  • Donate to a group fund for Knysna that will focus on the rebuilding of homes.
  • Read up on the effects of runaway pines and other invasive aliens on water catchment and fires in the future. Then make your voice heard to your local and national leaders to ensure that this problem is nipped in the bud. Literally.
  • Remove alien invasives from your own properties especially those with a high fire risk such as pine, eucalyptus and wattle and replant with trees and shrubs indigenous to your area. Motivate your neighbours and any government or SANRAL owned land to do the same.
  • Get involved with the active reforestation of the area with The Precious Tree Project, email them on 1000precioustrees@gmail.com if you would like to donate trees. The Green Ticket is another organisation that focusses on reforestation of the Garden Route.
  • Donate to other animal welfare groups besides KAWS and PAWS who are also focussing on fire relief for domestic and wild animals. Moya Animal Outreach, Knysna Vet, Bitou Horse Welfare.
  • Or help with your skills, if you have knowledge of insurance then assist those who have it through the quagmire to make sure they are treated fairly, if you have skills in sustainable building or reforestation make yourself known and help rebuild the Garden Route. Contact Knysna Fire page or Plett Fire page to offer up your services.

Losing your home and your sanctuary and seeing the green of the garden blackened is like having the world pulled out from underneath you. And while fires are a natural part of ecosystems we need to recognise that human activities have impacted on their ferocity due to our affect on the climate and the naturally resilient systems. This is our chance to do things differently and to emerge Stronger, Greener and Better for a future in which we need to be resilient to constant change. How will you be taking action?

P.S. Look at how people came together through the fires, imagine what else we are capable of…

flowers from the ashes WhatsApp Image 2017-06-28 at 15.47.58

water blog 2

Dear people of Cape Town, the deep seated ache you feel for rain right now is a constant longing and ever present ache for those of us who live off rainwater. We’ve been living solely on rainwater for the last 10 years, so being keenly aware of water usage has become second nature for my children, as it was for me growing up on a farm running purely on rainwater. When water is not an infinite resource that pours from a tap, but rather a precious lifeline that changes with the seasons, the darkening of the sky, the bleak days of drought and the ecstatic first sounds of raindrops hitting the roof as it runs into your rainwater tanks, it becomes a thread that runs deep in your veins.

So here are some of our water saving ways that form a natural part of everyday life:

1) Only wash dirty clothes – this is a biggie and I speak from the privileged position of having a washing machine. Wear clothes until they are truly dirty enough to go in the machine, the habit of wearing something once and then just chucking it in the laundry basket without first CHECKING if it actually warrants a wash is foreign to us. The same goes for towels and bedding which use a lot of water, don’t just wash them because you always wash on a Monday, ask yourself if they actually need a wash? And of course, only use the washing machine when it is ABSOLUTELY FULL. As a family of four we do two loads of washing a week to give you an idea….

IMG_6439 (Copy)2) Use biodegradable cleaning products – that way your used water can have a second use, the term GREYWATER has luckily become a well known concept. We have all the water from our bathroom going to the veggie garden through a filter of reeds and the kitchen water goes to a banana circle because, well,  bananas love water. There are many clever DIY ways of doing this or get in a company to help you. Here are some great local, biodegradable cleaning products… Probac, Naturally Good, the Clean Shop, Greenman.

3) Eat meat as a treat – your water saving ways can go beyond just the changes you make in your home habits, they can also include your consumer choices in the shops. Meat production uses far more agricultural water than vegetables and grains do. So if you are a meat eater why not have it as a treat, as it used to be, and not every night. Or go for Green Monday or Meat Free Monday, just having meat one less day a week will already have a sizable impact. And if you do buy meat, go for something like Karoo Choice where good veld management is a priority, protecting the river catchments.

4) Garden water wise – nothing grates a rainwater bunny like myself more than seeing gardens being watered in the heat of day when most of it is evaporating, plus it burns the leaves of the plants! Obviously if you have radical water restrictions you can’t water your garden (or if you are like my 7 year old you would be aghast at the fact that anyone could even ever water their lawn, we of course never can and never do) but it’s pretty obvious that it’s far better to water your garden in the cool hours of the day early morning and evening when it’s not all going to evaporate. Other simple water wise ways are to heavily mulch your garden beds to lock in the moisture, plant plants that are indigenous to your area and therefore adapted to the climate and the rainfall and remove any thirsty exotics especially if they are invasive.

IMG_6364 (Copy)5) Get a rainwater tank – it’s life changing, your relationship with water will never be the same as your heart will soar every time it rains and you know you are storing water for drier times. It just makes so much sense, and boy do I wish that every new house built in this country had a mandatory rain tank. They come in all shapes and sizes now to suit all rural and urban needs, it’s a capital outlay for sure but the rewards are very long lived!

6) Pools are a luxury – and should be treated as such. Being on rainwater we of course don’t have one, so I don’t have many real life tips around this, but perhaps there are basic responsibilities when it comes to pools, like re-using the water for the garden when you backwash and getting a cover to prevent evaporation?

7) Be truly water conscious – being aware of all our daily interactions with water needs to become second nature for all of us, it just has to. We live in South Africa, enough said. The only time a tap should be left running is when there is a plug in to catch the water that can be used for multiple purposes whether it’s washing dishes or veggies or two children in a shallow bath and then that water gets used again when it goes out to the garden. Every time we use water we feel aware of its value, only fill the kettle for how much tea you will drink, only flush the loo if you have to, only use the dishwasher when its full to capacity. Water saving ways need to run in our veins, it’s a matter of survival.

As our climates change and flux due to man made activities and dry places become drier and wet places wetter, we too need to change our ways and our relationship to water, because fresh, delicious, abundant water is not a given, not in any way, but rather a treasured resource to be treated with the utmost respect and care.

#VoteWithYourWallet and support businesses that have water saving measures in place, find them here.