The Stellenbosch University Water Institute, an initiative that aims to strengthen the already sterling work being done in the field of water research by SU academics, was launched yesterday (22 March) on World Water Day.
The event, which was attended by Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, was preceded by a well-attended public seminar during which four influential voices in the South African water sector provided insights into the water-related challenges and possibilities facing the country and the continent.
In her keynote address, Ms Naledi Pandor, said that it is vital for policy makers to follow a model such as that of the Stellenbosch University Water Institute which not only ensures that new knowledge is created, but also applied to address current water challenges. She also urged for stronger links between scientists and policy makers.
She commended researchers involved in the Institute for their work, and asked for their commitment to do multidisciplinary research not only with partners elsewhere in South Africa, but also at institutions throughout Africa in an effort to ensure necessary skills development within the water sector.
SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman said that the positive attitude, in which researchers involved with the Institute tackle water-related challenges, captures the spirit of the HOPE Project
through which Stellenbosch University uses its key strengths of academic excellence and cutting-edge research “to address seemingly intractable problems in society”.
The Stellenbosch University Water Institute, which embodies various objectives of the HOPE Project, unites established water research groups in five SU faculties under one umbrella. Current research projects already being done by its affiliates, in collaboration with government and industry, focus on health, agriculture and food, a sustainable environment, nanotechnology and filtration, effluent treatment and social aspects surrounding water.
“Our University has over the years built up excellent capacity within the field of water research, in various departments and various faculties,” says Prof Eugene Cloete, dean of the SU Faculty of Science and chair of the Stellenbosch University Water Institute advisory board. “By uniting our researchers in such a way I believe we have created a national asset that actively contributes towards solving South Africa and the continent’s water related challenges.”
Microbiologists, polymer scientists, soil scientists, geologists, invasion biologists, engineers, zoologists, food scientists, biochemists, agricultural economists and a philosopher count among the affiliated researchers who work on topics such as the ethics of freshwater management, ownership of water, the safety of agricultural produce, biofouling and biocorrosion control, community health, financial-economic planning of water use, endocrine disruptors, hydrodynamics, water engineering, catchment and resource management, invasion biology, the geochemical evolution of water and waste waters, water governance and management.
Speaking at the water seminar, Prof Cloete, who is also the inventor of the teabag water filter that made international headlines last year, announced that a licensing agreement has been signed with a South African company, Aquacure, to produce, manufacture and market the filters, and that the University would benefit through this agreement. In his address, he provided insights into the opportunities to use nanotechnology in the water industry.
He also said that research by his team at Stellenbosch University is ongoing into ways to use the existing filter technology, which combines electrospun nanofibres and biocides, for other effluent treatment options.
Also speaking at the seminar were Prof Hamanth Kasan, general manager of Rand Water’s scientific services division, Dr Rivka Kfir, CEO of the Water Research Commission, and Prof Anthony Turton, an environmental advisor and vice-president of the International Water Resource Association (IWRA).
Prof Kasan, gave an insightful overview of the role of water in development, and the challenges in this regard. He believes it is possible for developing countries to overcome water and sanitation challenges, and cited the example of Singapore and Uganda.
“We need efficient demand and supply management practices, including rainfall storage, desalination and recycling of water; we need top quality water provision 24 hours per day; we need public and private sector participation, and we need to take efficiency and equity issues into consideration,” he believes.
He stressed the importance of political will, competent leadership, efficient government, autonomous utilities, and effective and efficient institutions for the management of water, health, energy, industry and agriculture in this regard.
According to Dr Turton, South Africans have to turn from being consumers of waters to conservators of this valuable natural resource.
“It’s only through a profound understanding of the so-called ‘water-energy-food super nexus’ that we will be able to sustain South Africa’s economy and turn it from being an extractive one with high costs to the environment into a future economy.”
He stressed the importance of dedicated training and research institutions within the field of limnology to ensure adequately human skills development in addressing water-related issues.
“We need cooperation and communication with all significant stakeholders, a convergence of thinking into a shared vision, and coordination of their research-related activities,” he said. “Consortia-building between stakeholders is also extremely important to leverage funding and to build human capacity in the water sector.”
In her talk about ways in which to reduce water wastage to ensure a zero domestic effluent state, Dr Kfir highlighted technologies developed in Southern Africa that have had a worldwide impact on the treatment of municipal waste waters. This includes the Bardenpho Process and direct domestic sewage reclamation methods.
She also urged for greater use of ecosanitation options, as it reduces water needs, improves food security and minimises the impact on water quality.