Tackling South Africa’s water challenges will take a lot of hard work, courage, and the ability to think out of the box. As South Africa is a water-scarce country, plagued by challenges such as old, deteriorating infrastructure and high vacancy rates in key positions in the water sector, we have to find new, innovative ways to solve these challenges for the future, while maintaining the resources that we’ve got.
It is for this reason that South Africa’s national funding agency for water research and development, the Water Research Commission, will be hosting a global conference, the Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Symposium and Water-tech summit at the Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg, from September 16 to 18. Held every two years, the Symposium aims to find new ideas on issues that affect all water users, like climate change, energy efficiency, sustainability and the protection of drinking water quality and therefore public health.
“These issues are global in nature and transcend both national and continental boundaries,” says Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the WRC. “It is only through collaboration that the water industry will be able to address these challenges. The countries and indeed companies that enjoy high levels of water security around the world have done it on the back of very good science and high levels of innovation. This is what we want to invest in more heavily with the help of our international partners. In addition we want to organise for the water industry to develop to a point of providing services like acid mine water solutions and new sanitation for the international market providing us with sorely needed job creation and enterprise development opportunities.”
Some of the world’s most reputable and leading research organisations – like the Canadian Water Network, the Dutch-based Watercycle Research Institute and the US-based Water Environment Research Foundation, among others – have teamed up to face these challenges head-on, and established the Global Water Research Coalition. “We are proud to host the GWRC board and their participation in the WRC RDI Symposium, especially in the global dialogue on the future of water and sanitation, which takes place on 16 September” explains Naidoo.
The Symposium will include plenary and keynote presentations on every day, as well as parallel sessions of invited papers on case studies, research, posters and an interactive Watersmart Zone. The Watersmart Zone will be a dedicated space, designed as a real-life walk-through of different landscapes (rural, urban, industrial, informal settlements and natural), in which some of the country’s most innovative water and sanitation solutions will be demonstrated. “Delegates will be able to see how these technologies and solutions work and can be implemented in a variety of contexts,” says Dr Inga Jacobs-Mata, Executive Manager Knowledge Dissemination, Marketing and Communications of the WRC. “It will also be home to the Knowledge Café, an interactive space that will form a fourth parallel session for more informal discussions.”
The first day of the Symposium will be opened by Ms Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister of Water and Sanitation, and will include discussions on industry partnerships and water and sanitation futures. One of the breakaway sessions will include an exciting discussion around strengthening the ties between people, water and ecosystems through the restoration and management of ecological infrastructure and business resilient ecosystems. A number of international case-studies on waste-water management will also be presented. An afternoon session tackling the much debated issue of fracking is another session not to be missed. Ms Surina Esterhuyse from the University of the Free State, will deliver a presentation on an interactive vulnerability map and monitoring framework to assess the potential environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing. “It is vital that industry and government recognise the complexity of the challenges posed by the possible impacts related to unconventional oil and gas extraction. However, these impacts can be minimized by implementing a transparent, adaptive and effective regulatory system, backed by best practice monitoring and credible high quality baseline surveys” says Ms Surina Esterhuyse.
In another breakaway session, the key issues on the Sanitation Revolution will be unpacked, where a global perspective of sanitation issues will be presented by Dr Doulaye Kone from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, followed by the application of new technology from R&D through to marketing.
The second day of the Symposium will tackle water resilience in the face of uncertainty, and discuss why water cooperation is necessary. Day two will feature discussions on waste water reuse, empowerment of women through water use security, land use security and knowledge generation for improved household food security and sustainable rural livelihoods in selected areas of Eastern Cape Province among others. One of the most interesting conversations on the day is bound to be waste water reuse and resource recovery with a US case study presented by Dr Amit Pramanik (Water Environment Research Foundation) on the recovery of nutrients, energy, and other “commodities.” Professor Bala Pillay from the University of Kwazulu-Natal’s presentation on his findings of the linkages between water quality and micro-biological safety of fruit and vegetables from the farming to processing stages of production and marketing is also another interesting topic in the session titled Access to Agri-markets. During the Friday lunch hour, don’t forget to visit the Watersmart Zone for the launch of the Mini-SASS mobile app. This is an exciting partnership initiative between WRC, the Department of Science and Technology which is pushing citizen science for water to new levels whilst simultaneously stimulating ICT capacity in young South Africans.
Day three is all about innovation and finding solutions to our most pressing water challenges and ultimately transforming the water and sanitation innovation landscape. The midmorning session kicks off with demonstrations on technologies that make a difference, where a number of companies will show-case their technologies ranging from industrial water treatment solutions, to alternative sanitation technologies. An innovative woven-fibre household water treatment device, developed by the University of Stellenbosch will also be on display; as well as new water-efficient sanitation technologies like micro flush, pour flush and easy flush toilets.
The last day will be rounded off with a discussion on the Deals of the Year for 2014. “This is one of the discussions I look forward to most, and will look at what constitutes an investment-worthy innovation, and what do young start-ups needs to have going for them in order to get their technologies and innovations to the market,” says Inga Jacobs-Mata, Executive Manager, Knowledge Dissemination, Marketing and Communication at the WRC.
The Symposium will also be host to a gala dinner and the WRC Awards Ceremony, on 17 September, in which researchers that have had a major impact in their pursuit for excellence in the water science domain will be honoured.
We will also have live streaming coverage. To access the conference from where ever you are, please visit www.wrc.org.za
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