Reflections on Wisa 2016

By Helgard Muller

The Water Institute of Southern Africa (Wisa) held its biannual conference in Durban during May. More than 2 000 delegates from all segments of the sector attended the 54 sessions and 26 parallel workshops. More than 50 exhibitors showcased their latest technology, including two special pavilions from Denmark and the Netherlands. The theme was ‘Water: the ultimate constraint’.

It is impossible to encapsulate the entire conference, but here are some opinions and comments garnered from the sessions.

“Most people who work in the water sector are here because we work on behalf of someone else — and that makes the water sector so special,” said Wisa president Dr Jo Burgess. Former head of water services at eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality and consultant Neil Macleod was the keynote speaker. In his usual provocative style, he made the following three points concerning the current problems in the water sector:

  • There is no problem concerning the quality of professionals in the water sector. South Africa has several globally recognised specialists, engineers and other professionals active in this field.
  • Despite the usual excuse of a lack of funding, money is not a real issue, as the total underspending by South African municipalities was more than R2‑billion in the previous financial year.
  • Poor leadership is the most important impediment to transformation. He argued for the development of a cadre of well-trained and skilled water services managers.
  • Better co-operation is needed between professionals in the water sector and professional bodies, for example, SAICE and Wisa together with policymakers in the Department of Water and Sanitation.
  • An autonomous water regulator is needed for the independent regulation of drinking water quality, as well as economic regulation of water tariffs. Results from international studies show that other countries in Southern Africa, such as Zambia and Tanzania, are actually doing better than South Africa. Again, it was raised that funds are not a problem, but rather the lack of bankable projects.
  • Kim Adonis of Genesis Analytics put forward that once the uncertainties concerning projects are removed, the securing of private sector funding should not be problematic.

Several speakers in several sessions, whether the topic had been on water quality, regulation or communication, raised concerns that the excellent programmes on Blue Drop and Green Drop certification have been stalled, as no new reports have been released since 2012. Of special importance in view of the water scarcity, was the workshop on No Drop Certification — everyone in the sector is eagerly awaiting the first report.

Workshops dealt with mine drainage, water reuse, drinking water quality incident management, skills and capacity building, as well as asset management. The general perception is that water pollution only comes from mining and industrial wastewater. The public ignores the dangerous remnants of antibiotics as used in human and veterinary medications — this eventually lands up in our waters via human- and animal waste. Not forgetting the remnants of pesticides used in agriculture, as well as the numerous chemical substances we use daily, such as antiseptics, disinfectants and the whole range of cosmetics. It is comforting to know that the Water Research Commission (WRC) is funding research on this topic and organisations, such as Rand Water, are keeping tabs on these.

A workshop, as organised by the Management Division of Wisa, focused on possible solutions to our water challenges. Here are some of the proposals:

We hope that those in leadership positions take these messages to heart.

The general perception is that water pollution only comes from mining and industrial wastewater. The public ignores the dangerous remnants of antibiotics as used in human- and veterinary medications.



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