Benefits of water-related ecological infrastructure investments to support sustainable land-use: a review of evidence from critically water-stressed catchments in South Africa
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Investments to promote sustainable land-use within critical river catchment areas are often undertaken to provide benefits to society. Investments generally aim to protect or restore ecological infrastructure—the underlying framework of ecosystems, functions and processes that supply ecosystem services—for multiple benefits to society. However, the empirical evidence base from studies across the world on both mechanisms and outcomes to support these assumptions is limited. We collate evidence on the benefits of ecological infrastructure interventions, in terms of ecosystem services provided to society, from three major South African water-providing catchments using a novel framework. In these catchments, millions of US Dollars' worth of investments have been made into ecological infrastructure since 1996. We ask the question: is there evidence that ecological infrastructure interventions are delivering the proposed benefits? Results show that even in catchments with substantial, long-term financial investment into ecological infrastructure, research has not empirically confirmed the benefits. Better baseline data collection is required, and monitoring during and after ecological infrastructure interventions, to quantify benefits to society. This evidence is needed to leverage investment into ecological infrastructure interventions at scale. Investment at scale is needed to transition to more sustainable land-use to unlock greater benefits to nature and people.
- RESEARCH: Esler K