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Engineering a sustainable future for rural communities

by Media Xpose

South Africa’s dire need to address poverty and unemployment could be solved with the implementation of an Infrastructure Marshal Plan, which would focus on growing and rebuilding essential infrastructure that creates much needed employment, dignity and hope for the future. The big question is: how can we build resilient infrastructure for rural South Africa?

This was the essential message presented to delegates by Shawn Gama, CEO of Zimile Consulting Engineers, at the 13th Rural Development Conference for Africa, which recently took place in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Gama’s solution is an engineering driven, ‘eat the elephant’ approach that should begin with life sustaining projects. Citing Greenpeace’s “Water Crisis In South Africa” article from 2022, he states that about 19% of rural South Africa lacks access to reliable water supply and 33% do not have basic sanitation services. “Let’s not even get into the need for sustainable housing, roads, health care facilities, bridges and so much more!” he said.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are an imperative for South Africa, Gama stressed, and added that we need to ask ourselves the following – how do we:

  1. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all?
  2. Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation?
  3. Work together to develop quality, reliable, sustainable, and climate resilient infrastructure to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all?
  4. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable?

The country’s National Development Plan for 2030 highlights that South Africa needs to create more employment, decent work, and sustainable livelihoods to improve the living standards and ensure the dignified existence for all South Africans.

Gama explained that this can be achieved through unlocking infrastructure spend and building sustainable infrastructure that lasts for generations to come.

“The drive to develop urban infrastructure as the key for economic growth, should not be at the expense of ignoring development of rural areas. Rural infrastructure development has not been fully realised. So how do we get it right?” Gama asked his audience a critical question.

He further indicated the need for the reduction and the management of rural to urban migration. Gama highlighted that as a result of inadequate economic opportunities in rural areas, rural to urban migration has resulted in 67.85% of the total South African population living in urban areas and cities in 2021. This is according to a research expert from Statista.

Eight ways out of the poverty trap

Gama has proposed the following solutions:

  1. Vigorously drive the elimination of corruption within government and the private sector.
  2. Projects should focus on quality more than costs.
  3. Leverage the power of innovation and technology in delivering cost effective projects.
  4. Vigorously drive the professionalisation of the Public Sector.
  5. Drive community engagement as priority in project implementation from concept stages until completion.
  6. Building sustainable and smart infrastructure.
  7. Improve procurement processes by removing red tapes and shortening the turnaround times to appoint service providers.
  8. Partnering with reliable consulting engineering firms.

The role of a consulting engineer is key to delivery, Gama said.“Consulting engineers play a pivotal role in designing, developing and delivering the infrastructure that supports our lives and propels our economies forward. They possess a unique set of skills that enable them to tackle complex challenges and find sustainable solutions. Their expertise goes beyond technical knowledge; it encompasses creativity, critical thinking, project management, and effective communication.”

Over the past 10 years, Zimile has worked on numerous projects in rural areas, delivering impactful results that have transformed communities.

This past year alone, the company was involved in over 27 projects covering various disciplines, such as water, roads, stormwater, and project management. “Throughout our journey, we have consistently prioritized community engagement as a fundamental element of project management and implementation.”

Gama concluded: “By partnering with reliable consulting engineering firms, who share these values, as a country we can overcome the challenges that hinder progress and drive positive change in our society. So to all the stakeholders here, together, we can forge a path toward sustainable development and progress.”

Shawn Gama, CEO at Zimile

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