Webinar on Groundwater for Water Security in Africa

More than 336 delegates from all around the world participated in a webinar on Groundwater for Water Security in Africa organised by the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) at UKZN.

The event contributed to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) programmes and activities aimed at strengthening the capacity of member states to respond to water security, particularly as part of the project Governance of Groundwater Resources (GGRETA), funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation Agency (SDC).

The main aim of the webinar was to highlight the strategic role groundwater resources in Africa play in securing water for socio-economic transformation as well as to make policymakers and stakeholders aware of strategic approaches to overcome the various bottlenecks in using groundwater resources for food production and drinking purposes.

The CWRR was chosen – because of its capabilities in the domain – to organise the webinar and provide technical inputs, with UNESCO and the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) facilitating the various technical sessions.

Professor Seifu Kebede Gurmessa of the CWRR was the technical lead responsible for co-ordination and liaising with the various stakeholders while technical support was provided by the centre’s Public Relations Department and Dr Rebecka Henrickson.

Presentations covering four modules were delivered by experts from various organisations, followed by a Q&A session and a general debate. The webinar contents were drawn from various research programmes including those of Unlocking the Potential of Ground Water (UPGRo), REACH and the International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE).

The programme was opened by Dr Alice Aureli of UNESCO, Professor Moshood Tijani of AMCOW, and delegates from the Pan-African Groundwater Programme, APAGroP, who focused on the various groundwater programmes in Africa.

Aureli is a water resources expert who has a PhD in Hydrogeology and over 30 years of experience in groundwater resources management and governance. In addition to her many years of research and teaching, she is the Chief of the UNESCO’s Groundwater Systems and Water for Human Settlements section. Tijani is the Groundwater Desk Officer and Climate Lead at AMCOW in Abuja, Nigeria, who is charged with driving the groundwater agenda for sustainable use and management of groundwater resources on the African continent.

This was followed by a warm welcome and an address from the Director of the CWRR, Professor Jeff Smithers, who highlighted the activities of the centre and its capabilities.

Professor Graham Jewitt of the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education presented on landscape/catchment degradation, urbanisation and climate change. Over the past 20 years, Jewitt has led several water and earth system science-related initiatives both in South Africa and overseas, with the relationship between land and water an overarching research thrust. His impressive background includes being on the editorial board of the Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS) and WaterSA journals while recent work he has been involved in focuses on the effective use of science to better inform land and water re-sources policy development – especially in developing countries – and developing tools to support the effective implementation of these policies.

UKZN’s Associate Professor of Hydrology Seifu Kebede Gurmessa spoke on the Role of Groundwater for Water Security and Groundwater Management to secure Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services. The interactive audience were captivated by his presentation, which was followed by a polling exercise and discussion of the results.

A former president of the Environmental Education Association of SA (EEASA), Dr Jim Taylor, presented on the role of citizen science in water security. His talk covered:

•    A definition of citizen science with particular focus on groundwater and water security

•    Examples of citizen science initiatives in southern Africa

•    Future opportunities for citizen science and community-based organisations for filling gaps and scaling up actions.

For further information, contact Professor Seifu Kebede Gurmessa: KebedeGurmes-saS@ukzn.ac.za.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photographs: Supplied