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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 15:00

Improving capacity development in the water sector

South Africa is not well endowed with abundant freshwater resources. In fact, it is regarded as the 30th most water-scarce country in the world. Research and innovation have been a major factor in the quest to meet the increasing water demands of the ever-growing South African population.

The development of skills in the water sector has become a priority for rapid progress in ensuring that these needs are met. The water sector is a complex interplay of many different forces – from being a driver of socio-economic change and economic development, to playing a key role in protecting the environment.

Water policy rather than technology is a dominating factor in decision-making in the water sector.

Considerable development in the sector has taken place in many developing countries and especially in South Africa, where many major projects are underway.

For these programmes to prove effective, it is vital to keep stakeholders continuously informed about new technology and concerns to ensure the proper management of these programmes. This is possible only through effective knowledge sharing and capacity building of all stakeholders along with the development of supporting institutional mechanisms.

Capacity building measures are required for stakeholders on both ends of the water resources system.

South Africa’s National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) notes that research has been a fundamental contributor to understanding South Africa’s water resources.

According to the NWRS, while much progress has been made with regard to research since the promulgation of the Water Research Act (Act 34 of 1971), some key strategic issues require attention. These include:

• Sustainable utilisation of groundwater resources.

• Development of human research capacity.

• Degradation of water quality and water ecosystems resulting from industrial and agricultural development, mining and rapid human settlements in peri-urban areas.

• Increased health risks to humans and animals as a result of contamination of water by hazardous pollutants.

• Uncertain impacts of climate change on the availability of water.

• Insufficient provision of basic water supply and sanitation to some rural areas.

• In-equitable access to water for productive use.

• A lack of alignment of water research objectives, thrusts and programmes with the broader national policies and strategies relating to water resources management and water use.

• Limited participation of sector-wide stakeholders in the setting and execution of the water-related research and innovation agenda for the country.

• Availability of skills and expertise in water research.

• Insufficient allocation of financial resources for water sector research and innovation.

More than half of the water research activities, funded and coordinated by the Water Research Commission (WRC), are conducted by universities, science councils, organs of state, the private sector, water utilities and other agencies such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The NWRS notes that the implementation of research and innovation in the water sector is guided by the continuous proper organisation and transformation application of viable technology and innovations.

According to the World Bank Institute (WBI), a programmatic approach needs to be taken when it comes to capacity development. The WBI focuses on seven themes that cut across sectors and regions. These include:

• Climate change.

• Fragile and conflict-affected states.

• Governance.

• Growth and crisis.

• Health systems.

• Public-private partnerships.

• Urban development.

South Africa needs more trained and knowledgeable individuals and new technologies to mitigate the challenges in the water sector. New water legislation in the country has triggered widespread reforms in the sector, demanding decentralised management and a shift from a supply-driven system to a demand-oriented paradigm.

Despite South Africa’s major water challenge, the country has done great in harnessing this resource in support of a strong economy and a vibrant society.

However, for capacity development to have sustainable results, strengthening stakeholder ownership, the efficiency of policy instruments and the effectiveness of organisational arrangements are critical. A shift needs to take place where the focus is on programmatic approaches that emphasise country ownership and capacity.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Unesco, the Department of Water Affairs (DWAF) and “Karar, E, & Pietersen, K: Challenges for human capital development and technological innovations in the South African water sector” for the information given to write this article.