Reflections from the WRC Symposium

By: Helgard Muller

What the experts at the Water Research Commission (WRC)’s symposium in September had to say about how to overcome South Africa’s water crisis

The Water Research Commission (WRC) held a three-day symposium at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre, in Ekurhuleni, in September 2015. It was made clear by all the speakers that a ‘business as usual’ scenario cannot be the pathway to success.

Here are a few extracts from what international experts had to say on how to do things differently.

2016 will be the global starting date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a set of new goals and indicators for water supply and sanitation. In her opening address via video link, Nomvula Mokonyane, minister of Water and Sanitation, challenged the research community to take research results “from the laboratory to communities”.

Compared to South Africa, where water issues are in the news almost every day, Bernadette Conant, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Canadian Water Network (CWN) remarked that water abundance in Canada is both a blessing and curse as water professionals find it extremely difficult to get water on the national agenda – the public is just so complacent.

A scary dimension was brought in by Andile Ngcaba, executive chairman of Dimension Data Middle East and Africa, who pointed out that, as more technology is built into water treatment and distribution systems, the risk of hacking also increases. For example, the telemetry control system of a large water supply utility can be hacked by using a single mobile device. Metering and billing systems are also vulnerable and these cyber-attacks pose huge risks such as interruption of services and financial damages.

Rob Renner, executive director of the Water Research Foundation in the US, said, “Water Services has not changed much during the last 15 years in the USA. But what has changed is information communication technology (ICT) and these have affected the way utilities engage with their customers. Consumers have become more sophisticated and better informed through ICT e.g. they now look more closely at constituents in the water such as trace elements and the public even demand that some trace elements be removed.”

South Africa can be proud of past research in the fields of membrane technology, waste water treatment, dry cooled electricity generation, changing the way the world talks about water law and the right to water as well as the concept of an ecological reserve and water brokering.

Read more about this feature in Plumbing Africa Novemeber 2015, page 45.

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