College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

From left: Ms Suvina Singh, Dr Mosidi Makgae, Dr Santiago Septien Stringel, Professor Julia Sibiya and Professor Cristina Trois

InQubate Observes World Water Day

UKZN InQubate hosted a networking and discussion session recently to mark the 30th World Water Day under the theme: Accelerating Change, which focused on the urgent need for a sustainable water supply and highlighted innovations in the water industry.

World Water Day is observed annually to highlight the importance of water supply and security.

In her opening address, Professor Julia Sibiya, Acting Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science said: ‘Globally, two billion people lack access to drinking water and 3.6 billion lack safely managed sanitation. Nineteen percent of the rural South African population lacks access to a reliable water supply and 33% does not have basic sanitation services. Moreover, 26% of schools (both urban and rural) and 45% of clinics have no access to water. This highlights the need to accelerate change to ensure a sustainable water supply.’

Ms Lungi Zuma, eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation Acting Strategic Executive: Research and Partnerships noted that the municipality’s longstanding partnership with UKZN and the Water Research Commission assists it in improving water and sanitation services. ‘The majority of our water comes from Umgeni Water which has reached the cap limit of the amount of water it can provide to eThekwini. Water demand is increasing and we are working on different projects to increase supply such as recycling waste water, looking at the feasibility of water reuse and remixed water (a mixture of treated water and seawater) for possible industrial or potable use,’ she said.

Dr Mosidi Makgae, a Board Member of the Water Research Commission noted that the water crisis goes beyond drinking water and highlighted the need for research that is relevant to communities such as those caught unprepared by the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022. ‘We need to move towards innovation and impact, raise funds to conduct research and capacitate young people to lead us in the future, and promote the effective transfer of information and technology. Furthermore, the fruits of our research need to be communicated in a language that people can understand,’ said Makgae.

Mr NeilMacleod, an independent consultant to the World Bank, Former Head of eThekwini Water and Sanitation and past President of the South African Institute of Chemical Engineers, examined how humans impact the environment. ‘People damage the environment. Alien plants absorb water that should be going to our streams; they kill everything under the trees and the water quality deteriorates.’ He noted that more and more rivers in South Africa are in a critical state and that 39% of the municipal systems are dysfunctional, resulting in 11 million tonnes of plastic waste going into the ocean each year.

Founder and CEO at Cora Ball and Founder of the Rizolia Project Ms Racheal Miller also addressed the impact of human activities on the oceans. The Cora Ball was invented by Miller for use in laundry machines to trap microfibre particles from laundry which would otherwise end up in waterways. These microfibres ultimately find their way into food and drink intended for human consumption.

Research Engineer at the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre based at UKZN, Dr Santiago Septien Stringel described one of the Centre’s innovations – a toilet that separates waste and water, allowing the same water to be reused to flush.

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, UKZN Honorary Research Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Transformative Agriculture and Food Systems at UKZN, spoke of the need to maintain existing water resources in the face of water shortages, degraded land and a growing population. He noted that the concept of the water-energy-food nexus, a project that he is working on, is based on the need to balance one resource need whilst minimising the impact on other resources.

Ms Suvina Singh, Director of UKZN InQubate, noted that the purpose of observing World Water Day was multi-fold. Firstly, it was to acknowledge the significance of this international day, and the life-giving role that water has in every aspect of our lives; secondly, to highlight some of the world-class, cross-disciplinary water research taking place at UKZN and showcase opportunities for collaboration; and last but not least, to join the hands of academia, industry and government in making advances in technological innovations relating to water.

Words: Zama Khoza

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini