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Influence of socio-economic status on people’s perception of the health condition of the Elsieskraal River, Cape Town, South Africa
Rivers, lakes and streams are the only way people encounter water sources in urban areas. Human endeavours have consequently deteriorated the environmental quality provided by river systems thus rivers are supporting a fraction of their original biodiversity and abundance. Urban streams are highly valuable and sensitive systems which, can be assessed by means of impacts of urban catchment and pathway influences. Many of the problems associated with environmental quality and management of urban watercourses are as a result of poor public perception. Advances in river assessment and management has come about through the recognition that water resource problems involve biological, physical and chemical components and more recently the addition of social and economic aspects. Social public participation is therefore achieved by studying and acting on people’s values, behaviours and perceptions of environmental quality. The main aim of this research was to identify whether a difference in socio-economic status is an influential factor in people’s perception of environmental quality. The objectives of the research were to determine whether the Elsieskraal River has a perceived low environmental relevance and quality (health and aesthetics), to determine what sensitizes people about issues relating to the natural environment and to identify people’s uses and perceptions of the Elsieskraal River corridor and its importance to the enjoyment as a recreational space. The study used a qualitative approach to obtain the data using the focus group technique. The purposive sample of participants from Pinelands and Thornton were the population that this study sought to investigate. Two focus group discussions; one in each study area was conducted. The results of this study found both similarities and differences in people’s perceptions of the Elsieskraal River between the two different socioeconomic urban communities. The perceived observation that the Elsieskraal River was a canal and not a river set the foundation for the envisaged low environmental quality the river so acquired. The majority overall environmental quality scores for the attributes of aquatic life, vegetation and water quality were found to be lower than they were scientifically found to be. Two clear avenues concerning environmental information sourcing and sensitization to the public was found. Politicians and government officials were unreliable to relay environmental information of a trustworthy nature. Community newspapers were a useful tool to present theevidence of information concerning the status of the natural environment especially at a local level. Three themes namely safety, maintenance and facilities and community attachment emerged on the importance of the Elsieskraal River as a recreational space. It is recommended that further studies should examine the perceptions of other similar rivers in the urban environment, both natural and canalised within Cape Town and the greater South Africa. The findings can assist environmental managers, planners and educators identify the gaps between the scientific environmental conditions and what people’s perceived awareness and knowledge about environmental quality are (factual versus perceived). It is also recommended that emphasis and support from local authorities must be given to non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and adjacent property owners to aid in mobilising people into “ownership of rivers” within their communities to enhance their value and utilisation.
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