The Water Research Commission (WRC), the South African Local Government Association (Salga) and the departments of Water and Sanitation and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs have launched the Water Technology and Innovation Forum (WTIF).
The forum will serve as a platform for all stakeholders in the water and sanitation sectors to collaborate to further advance the provision of safe, clean and sustainable water and sanitation.
The purpose of the WTIF is to serve as a platform to explore the challenges and opportunities for advancing the technology landscape at municipal level. Key to its function will be serving as a collaborative platform for municipal partners to share their innovation needs, mobilise partnerships and jointly conceptualise programmes, projects and funding.
South Africa faces a range of challenges that need to be deal with to improve its water security. These include water scarcity, droughts, ageing infrastructure and improper or misaligned management of water resources; ageing, dysfunctional or inappropriate sanitation systems; and water losses, said Salga water and sanitation specialist William Moroka.
"These challenges represent specific opportunities that we can improve," he said during the virtual launch of the forum.
WRC CEO Dhesigan Naidoo highlighted that the WTIF would play a key role not only in validating and proving technologies, as well as their environmental and economic sustainability and suitability, for deployment in municipalities, but also serve as a key means through which gaps and challenges could be identified, communicated and addressed to improve the management and delivery of clean, safe and sustainable water and sanitation services.
"The forum will help to establish bridges to influence decision-making and, by strengthening collaboration and partnerships, it will help to improve the funding and resourcing of technologies and projects to enhance the local delivery of water and sanitation for all uses and all users."
The partnership-led forum would seek to enable critical pillars, including "setting up and expanding a network of testbeds for ground-breaking water and sanitation solutions emanating from South Africa and the global research, development and innovation partnership. We want South African districts, towns and cities to be among the leaders in sustainable water and sanitation solutions,” said Naidoo.
He highlighted the key challenge posed by, as well as the crucial need for, long-term planning, noting that predictions indicate a hotter and drier future. He emphasised that actions by all parties would be necessary to enable sustainable water use.
Salga president Thembi Nkadimeng expressed the organisation's need to create a different paradigm in its approach to water management by using the WTIF to re-imagine the delivery of water and sanitation to communities.
“I need to emphasise the importance of collaboration and partnerships. Without collaboration this initiative would not have materialised. To sustain it and ensure its success, working partnerships between private and public sectors need to be nurtured," she said.
Department of Water and Sanitation ministerial advisory committee chairperson Jurgen Kogl, addressing the virtual launch on behalf of Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said the Minister had tasked the committee with identifying the lessons learned from the past six months of drought management and providing water to combat the spread of the pandemic.
"We propose that the forum provide quarterly or twice-yearly presentations to all stakeholders on what work has been done and what projects can be implemented in financially sustainable manner," said Kogl.
Further, the Department of Water and Sanitation proposes, in partnership with the departments of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Human Settlements, as well as the National Treasury and Salga, that a water sector leadership group be established under Salga.
"Our view is that the Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop programmes be reactivated with vigour. We need all the water works in every municipality on the system, regardless of the level of vandalism of malfeasance, to improve the management of water."
Additionally, given the expected impact of climate change, the country needs to prepare and plan for the future and ensure that it uses what it has appropriately and in a financially responsible way to ensure that the country can ensure that water security and living standards can be met over the next 50 years, said Kogl.
There is significant academic and technical capacity in South Africa in the water and sanitation sectors and it has the support of international partner countries. Specifically, the Netherlands and Japan assisted in the creation of the WTIF.