Describe your professional (and/or personal) experience relating to water (and space technologies). Please indicate whether an experience is related to water or to both, space and water).
I have always had an interest for science and the environment and before starting university I was introduced to hydrology which really caught my interest and led me to studying a BSc Degree in Hydrology and Geography. During my studies I was certain that this is the career I want to pursue because I was really interested in the content and I learnt how valuable water resources are to society, the economy and the environment itself. I then decided to further my studies with a Postgraduate Diploma in Water Management which offered amazing modules and current knowledge on water resource management. My experience as a research intern at the Water Research Commission opened my eyes to see vulnerable communities’ suffering caused by a lack of proper water supply and sanitation and further how other factors such as unemployment play a huge role in water supply issues as some people cannot afford paying for water. Assisting vulnerable communities and providing sound solutions is one of the aspects that excite me and inspire me to continue in this journey.
South Africa was covered by global news shows when Day Zero was approaching. As a young South African, can you share with us how the announcement of Day Zero felt, and what were the lessons learned, both on the individual level but also on a national or municipal level. How have the ways water is used and managed changed since?
Day zero mainly affected the city of Cape Town located in the western part of the country and although I live very far from the western cape province it came as a shock to me and many other South Africans. As a young professional in the water industry I had many concerns and questions about the matter. I personally learnt the importance of consistent monitoring of water resources, water conservation and early detection. Many things changed after day zero, for example only very few urban areas were permitted to practise rainwater harvesting but after day zero many households in the urban parts of Cape town resorted to rainwater harvesting and policies in certain urban areas where rainwater harvesting had been forbidden changed. The day zero crisis also made governments in other provinces aware of the importance to constantly monitor water resources and the early detection of water problems that might arise.
Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project or your proudest professional moment?
I was involved in conducting research on the perspectives of people in urban areas with regards to using alternative water sources such as greywater, stormwater and rainwater harvesting. This project was initiated to discover the reasons to why many South African people in urban areas do not have alternative water sources. I was also part of a research project which focused on a marginalised area in South Africa that had water supply issues ever since it was developed and had clashes between tradition and municipal leadership, which were a contributing factor to the poor implementation of proper water supply in the area. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, data for both projects was collected online with the aid of technologies such as GIS and satellite images from Google Earth. Field work was conducted once lockdown restrictions had been eased.
For our research we had to observe our study area to identify available water sources in the area as well as alternative water sources that can be used by the community that was experiencing water supply issues. We conducted observations around the community, community surveys as well as interviews to collect data on how residents were responding to the water crisis both, as a community and individually. The majority of data collected were observations and interviews rather than technical data. Finally, we shared our findings with the Water Research Commission and the local municipality.
Can you expand a bit on the identification of groundwater availability? How important are in-situ data when working with space-based data such as from GRACE-FO, e.g., for training models, verification and testing? How can one get access to such in-situ data? Can we train a global space-data based model with in-situ data from a few regions? If so what would be the criteria for the selection of sites?
To identify groundwater availability, I initially used maps provided by the department of water and sanitation which had data on groundwater availability in the country, then for more detailed data I utilised information from the South African National Groundwater Archive which has updated data on groundwater resources. Space-based data is of great benefit in identifying groundwater availability and the rate at which groundwater resources are used up. In situ data is also important when it comes to testing the water quality and monitoring the safety of groundwater resources. In South Africa in situ data of previous years can be attained from the Department of Water and Sanitation website as well as the National Groundwater Archive. In situ data of the whole country is available on these platforms. To sample groundwater you need to be registered with the department of water and sanitation and you need to adhere to national guidelines and standards to ensure accurate sampling. Yes, we can train a global space-data based model. I think relevant sites would be areas with large aquifers with abundant groundwater resources as well as sites where groundwater is used/pumped.
Can you share what collaborative water management is all about and which role community development plays for sustainable water resource management?
Collaborative water management focuses on appropriate water planning frameworks that aim at addressing the pressing issues of social organisation and political structures which are one of the main problems in water resource management. The water planning frameworks encourage collaboration at different levels of governance from the local to the international level. Community and stakeholder participation is highly encouraged so that all stakeholders can partake in decision making and play a role in the sustainable management of water resources. For example, there is a bottom up/ community based approach that suggests that stakeholders from the local level including water users should participate in decision making and water boards should be transparent to the public in order to decisions to be taken from the local level to higher governance such as municipalities and provinces.
Community development plays an important role in sustainable water management because it encourages stakeholder involvement at community level which helps communities voice their opinions and concerns on water matters. Community development also builds resilient communities that are solution driven and can work together to target water related issues. This promotes an understanding of the importance of water resources and the conservation of water resources in community members, which assists in sustainable water management.
You told me your aim is to utilise relevant technologies to better manage water resources and the life of both marginalized and urban communities, can you expand on how you would like to do that and what you need to achieve it?
As a young professional I want to use all the relevant technologies in order to better manage water resources in communities. I want to expand my knowledge on different technologies that are relevant in the field and improve my understanding and application of those technologies such as programming, remote sensing, GIS, etc. so that I can implement them on different projects I work on and use them to my advantage in order to better understand data and acquire data in a more convenient manner.
Who are marginalised communities in South Africa, when it comes to water?
When it comes to water resources marginalised communities include communities without proper or sufficient water supply. Highly affected communities include those in rural areas, townships, developing areas and informal settlements where water supply is an issue due to factors such as lack of infrastructure, poor water management, droughts, etc. Most municipalities in South Africa still have to greatly improve their water management strategies to ensure that these communities have access to sufficient water resources.
What do you think is poorly understood or unresolved within the area of sustainable water management and research? Why is this so? How do you believe space technologies add value?
I think water pricing is a big issue in many developing countries. Policies do not adequately address laws on water pricing for people with low economic status. This is a consequence of poor water management practices and poor community engagement.
What do you see as key capacity building needs in South Africa with regards to space technologies for water management and in which areas do you see the greatest potential of the generation of young professionals in your country?
I think educational programmes and workshops which offer practical support to water managers in both government and the private sector are needed in the country. There is a gap in knowledge about the application of space technologies for water management. In addition, most universities offer limited space technology education for water management related courses, which I believe should change because knowledge of space technologies is helpful and relevant in water management. It would be beneficial to many scientists if universities offered modules and short courses on space technologies. This would support professionals who are already in the field as well as students who aim to be in the water management field
As a young professional, what do you feel is missing in the current scientific debate and management of water resources?
I think water pricing especially in developing countries is missing in current debates, especially in the light of COVID-19 and its impact on many people’s employment status. A lot of unexpected changes have occurred in society and I think as water mangers it is important to adjust to certain contexts and realities and to find appropriate solutions that will ensure that people’s rights to water and sanitation are met at all times.
What do you need to innovate?
Appropriate systems to identify community members, who cannot afford paying for water, need to be introduced. In rural areas laws usually allow residents to not pay for water as most cannot afford to do so. However, in townships and developing areas it is not easy to identify people who need assistance, because people of mixed economic status reside in the same area. So, I think systems managed at community level are needed to identify community members and also to monitor changes in people’s ability to pay for water. This is important so that people who can afford to pay for water actually do so, which allows municipalities and water boards to receive income to maintain water infrastructure and cover other costs. Furthermore, this can allow those people who cannot afford to pay to be assisted appropriately.
Last, but not least, what is your favourite aggregate state of water?
My favourite state of water is liquid, I love the calm and refreshing feeling I get when surrounded by moving water in rivers, lakes and the ocean.