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Cross sector partnerships have the power to solve South Africa’s water challenges


Photo: Sima Charlotte Rasmussen, The Royal Danish Embassy in South Africa.

Don’t always look for problems, look for solutions. This opening remark by Nicolette Vermaak, a Danida supported researcher, set the tone for the discussions on a Water Engagement Day in Pretoria. Here key actors from the public sector, the private sector, and academia met to find lasting solutions to South Africa’s water challenges.

By Maya Lindberg Brink

In 1992, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water. Thirty years on, public water authorities, researchers, private sector companies and civil society organizations gathered in Pretoria, South Africa, for a Water Engagement Day, to celebrate World Water Day and debate how cross sector collaboration can help solve some of the most pressing challenges in the South African water sector.

South Africa remains a water-stressed country. It faces challenges in the delivery of water services caused by factors such as insufficient water infrastructure maintenance and investment; recurrent droughts driven by climatic variation; and inequities in access to water. These are challenges that can be solved only through the collaboration of the various actors in the water sector.

It was against this backdrop that Danida Fellowship Centre and the Danish Embassy in Pretoria decided to host a Water Engagement Day, bringing key stakeholders in the water sector together to share perspectives and challenges and to identify solutions in water resources management in South Africa. The event was hosted in collaboration with the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science as part of the Strategic Sector Cooperation between Denmark and South Africa.

A month of activities to bring cross-sectoral knowledge into action
Don’t always look for problems, look for solutions. With this opening remark, Nicolette Vermaak, a PostDoc Researcher at the University of the Free State, set the tone for the discussions on the Water Engagement Day.

South African alumni from the Water Sector Governance and Operations courses offered by Danida Fellowship Centre since 2018 joined the Water Engagement Day, many of them from the South African Department for Water and Sanitation. Researchers from Danida funded research projects on water related issues in South Africa also participated.

The Water Engagement Day was the conclusion of a month long engagement with participants starting with an online kick-off event on 22 February. The same day, researchers met online for a Bridging the Gap communications training to pave the way for increased research and science reporting and deepen the impact and uptake of Danida funded research projects.

In the run up to the Water Engagement Day, South African alumni from the global Water Sector Governance and Operations courses and their supervisors took part in a follow-up training where knowledge from the original course was adapted to the South African context and specific solutions for South Africa were discussed. The University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark with input from South African researchers and representatives of private Danish companies offering solutions in the water sector in South Africa hosted the training.

The Water Engagement Day proved to me that there is a greater need for collaboration across the sector. I believe that we can foster the commercialization of innovative and new technologies in the water sectorRivash Panday, Sasol South Africa, Senior Specialist, Sustainable Water
After the Water Engagement Day, I think we have an opportunity for academia and the industry to reengage so solutions are not developed in isolation from the context within which they are supposed to be applied Craig Sheridan, Chemical Engineer, Director and Founder of the Centre for Water Research and Development
One of the most important solutions that have come out of today’s Water Engagement Day is the power of partnerships. Nsuku Nxumalo, Water Consultant, Pegasys
It’s very inspiring that all the different [actors in the sector] are wanting to work together, because the only way that we are going to resolve issues in South Africa is if we share our expertise and through common goals, and that’s about getting water to the South African citizens.Shaun Davis, Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority, TCTA, Environmental Manager
Solutions need to be contextualized to the specific environment, there is no one fit all solutions, we need to contextualize them and make them fit to the specific challenges on the groundMoloko Raletjena, Scientific Manager, Department of Water and Sanitation

We hope the Water Engagement Day has helped inspire new partnerships and greater dialogue within the South African water sector and with the Danish water sector. Danida Fellowship Centre will continue to support cross sector dialogue. In 2022, we will launch a global Water Community drawing together researchers, alumni and partners involved in Danish development cooperation in the area of water. For more information on the Water Community, contact dfc@dfcentre.dk.

Video interviews: Vibeke Quaade

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