Municipal Institute Of LearningMILE - Municipal Institute Of Learning
UKZN hosts SAYAS Water Security Colloquium
The South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) in collaboration with the School of Life Sciences hosted a two-day interdisciplinary colloquium on water security on the 25th and 26th of June 2014 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). The sixty attendees included students, academics, civil society representatives, municipal managers and politicians.
The colloquium was designed to specifically address the following themes:

• Public expectations and municipal obligations regarding water quality
• Water reuse – health and infrastructural considerations
• Water security and governance – challenges and advances
The guests were welcomed by the Prof. Urmilla Bob (Dean of Research, UKZN) and Prof. Roland Schulze opened the colloquium with a thought-provoking talk on “Water Security Dimensions in South Africa”.  Co-chair of SAYAS and organizer of the colloquium, Dr Sershen Naidoo, said that, “Prof. Schulze’s talk set the stage for a highly stimulating colloquium on a number of controversial issues within the water sector”.
The first session on Public expectations and municipal obligations regarding water quality facilitated by Prof. Chris Buckley (Pollution Research Group, UKZN) and Mr Christopher Fennemore (eThekwini Municipality) highlighted a number of a number of challenges faced by municipalities around the country: lack of and/ or dysfunctional infrastructure, rapid urbanisation and uninformed decision-making. There were a number of engaging discussions around the importance of striking the balance between citizen rights and government obligations, and fostering public responsibility. A key outcome of the session was that unrealistic political promises were giving rise to unrealistic public expectations within a number of municipalities. Apart from articulating the value of the Blue and Green Drop Assessment programmes a number of participants expressed their support for government and public awareness campaigns, increased re-use of waste water, harnessing the benefits of ecological infrastructure, and the introduction of rising block-tariffs.
Prof. Thor Axel Stenström (SARChI Chair in water and wastewater technology, DUT) and Prof. Stefan Schmidt (Discipline of Microbiology, Pietermaritzburg campus, UKZN) facilitated the second session on Water reuse - health and infrastructural considerations. The two microbiologists illustrated that a sustainable water management strategy has to account for factors such as urbanisation, projected water scarcity, high water use in agriculture as well as the water footprint of consumers and industry. One of the key points to have emerged from the discussions was that re-use of water in the urban context, in agriculture and for energy production is possible but needs to be well balanced against potential risks due to the presence of disease causing organisms, antibiotics and emerging organic pollutants.
The second day kicked-off with a session on Water security and governance - challenges and advances, and was facilitated by Ms. Nora Hanke (Stellenbosch University Water Institute and Vice Chair of the South African Young Water Professionals) and Dr Mark Dent (School of Agricultural, Earth & Environmental Sciences, UKZN). The discussions during the session suggest that water security cannot be addressed in a fragmented manner by scientists since each individual, discipline or organisational grouping only has knowledge of a small part of the overall system. In other words, when working in fragmented silos the system suffers from the bounded rationality (i.e. one can only perform rational acts within the bounds of ones cognition) of each of the actors. Dr Dent emphasised that when acting on water-related matters, which by definition cross boundaries, we create problems with our solutions if they are generated in a silo of thinking.  The session went on to briefly explore the migration of human skills within the water sector and why the Policy, Legislative and Regulatory frameworks, from local to international levels, were all in place for good governance and to address water security. A number of participants indicated that actors within the sector should engage scientific and governance issues in a spirit of transparency and co-operation.  Dent and Hanke gave evidence for their contention that with appropriate thinking and sharing South Africa does have the human and financial resources to significantly reduce our water-related risks and cope with the challenges we face. Participatory agent-based social simulation modelling and citizen science were introduced as two of the most promising vectors of change sweeping the water governance landscape. According to Dent, scientists should recognise that all water-related decision-making processes have two broad stages: firstly, the option generation stage which is open to all actors and secondly, the authority stage where the best option is decided on and made mandatory.  The water authorities therefore, cannot take systemically wise decisions, unless presented with several wise options. Based on the discussion that took place during the session, the option generation space is open to all and is the key focus area for actors to engage water security and governance.
In commenting on the success of the event, Dr Sershen Naidoo stressed how important it is that universities play a role in finding solutions to national problems such as water security and confirmed that the colloquium’s major output, a consensus document put together with the aid of the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE) will be shared with government (local, provincial and national), civil society and academics across the country and in the Southern African region with the help of SAYAS. According to the facilitators of the panel discussion at the colloquium, Prof. Faizal Bux (DUT) and Dr. Nicola Rodda (UKZN), this will no doubt ensure that the discussions at colloquium impact on the water landscape within the country.
View the detailed learning note below:

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