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Water availability and climate change: Local learners exposed to the importance of environmental science amid climate change

By Tony Swemmer and Tsumbedzo Leonard Ramalevha, SAEON Ndlovu Node
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The SAEON Ndlovu Node celebrated National Science Week from 29 July to 2 August, with presentations to local community groups and learners on the topic ‘facing the harsh realities of climate change’.

Dr Tony Swemmer presented an overview of global climate change, including its causes, current trends and local impacts, for cattle owners and other residents of Phalaubeni village in Limpopo. The talk, and discussions thereafter, were translated by Phalaubeni resident Peace Nkuna, who is also a DEA SANParks Environmental Monitor.

Dr Swemmer gave a similar talk for the staff of the Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Region NPC in Hoedspruit. This was followed by a presentation from Ancois Dippenaar (AWARD) on lessons learnt on how to communicate with rural communities about global climate change.

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Dr Tony Swemmer presented an overview of climate change for residents of Phalaubeni village in Limpopo

The talk led to lively discussion and questions from the residents, many of whom are cattle owners

Raising awareness among local youth

Learner activities were conducted by SAEON's Joe Sibiya, Tsumbedzo Ramalevha, Sally Mthombeni and Thabo Mohlala. They spoke to Grade 9 and 10 learners at the Lebeko and Ntshuxeko Secondary schools in the Ba-Phalaborwa area about global climate change and particularly its impacts on water supplies.

Grade 10 learners were introduced to some of the more general science careers such as aquatic science, agricultural science, air quality science and environmental science. The significant role played by these science disciplines in understanding and dealing with climate change and its impacts was highlighted.

Learners had the opportunity to interact with scientists who grew up in the Ba-Phalaborwa area. These scientists proved to the learners that dreams do come true, and that by working hard and dreaming big they can become the scientists of tomorrow.

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Learners from Lebeko Secondary School on a tour of the Lepelle Northern Water Purification Plant

SAEON’s Thabo Mohlala tells the learners why being a scientist matters

Grade 9 learners were introduced to careers in the environmental sciences. They were also made aware of the importance of choosing the right subjects in Grade 10 as a foundation for the career they intend to pursue after completing grade 12. The youngsters were also informed about the SAEON science camps and other outreach activities run by the Ndlovu Node.

Two days later, the same learners were taken to the Lepelle Northern Water Purification Plant, where they were introduced to water resource management in the face of climate change. Issues of water deficits, economic costs, sedimentation problems and inappropriate land-use activities along rivers upstream were discussed.

The learners were then taken to one of SAEON’s real-time water monitoring stations on the Olifants River. SAEON technician Thabo Mohlala explained how these stations work and how they will provide data to aid in our understanding of climate change impacts, as well as informing integrated water resource management systems.

The learners were grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Node’s National Science Week celebrations, for the exposure to careers they had not even been aware of and for learning how global climate change affects us all.

Some of the learners didn’t even know where their drinking water came from and how it is treated and purified. They were also not aware of the many different types of skills and careers that are involved or are needed to produce clean, safe drinking water.

The take-home message for the learners was the important role that science is playing in helping us understand the impacts of climate change and some of the already visible impacts in their towns.

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Learners of the Ntshuxeko Secondary School are introduced to water resource management in the face of climate change

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