Wits embarks on R15.7m water research programme

  • The new water research programme will find solutions to water challenges faced by the country and African continent.
  • The programme will not only tackle current water challenges, but those of the future. 
  • It will be funded by the Claude Leon Foundation for five years. 

Wits University is set to embark on a water research programme aimed at tackling the water crisis faced by South Africa and Africa.

The university will do this through the help of the Claude Leon Foundation, which will fund two research chairs and a research programme in water stewardship, amounting to R15.7 million.

Wits believe that a myriad of anthropogenic (human impact) pressures threaten water as the impact of climate change was also being felt and would become more severe. 

It added that an urgent comprehensive response was therefore required to secure the future. 

READ | SA must do something now to avoid the looming water crisis, which could be its worst ever

The funding of the Water Stewardship Programme and two research chairs will be for five years and forms part of the Wits Centenary programme that seeks to advance society.

Multidisciplinary solutions

The programme will tackle current and future water challenges, aiming to find solutions that benefit communities in the country and continent. 

“We live in a world characterised by urbanisation, industrialisation, burgeoning populations, globalisation, pollution, and climate change. All of these present myriad, complex, interconnected problems that affect societies already burdened with inequality, poverty and dwindling natural resources,” Wits Vice-Chancellor Zeblon Vilakazi said. 

He said water challenges required inter, multi and transdisciplinary solutions that traverse the natural, technical and social spheres. He added that universities were also well placed to tackle those challenges. 

Wits said it was at the forefront of water research and development in South Africa and would work with other universities, including the University of Western Cape and the University of Edinburgh in the UK, to establish the Claude Leon Foundation Water Stewardship programme.

Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Earth Justice and Stewardship Tracy-Lynn Field said the programme aimed to expand human freedoms while easing planetary pressures. 

“The complex interplay between environmental problems and socio-economic hardships requires collaboration across traditionally separate disciplines such as Science and Law, between institutions in different countries, and it requires academe to interact more with society. 

“The two Chairs will seek to address multi-dimensional, emergent and interconnected predicaments in a manner that addresses global South concerns,” Field said. 

Craig Sheridan, the foundation’s chair in Water Research, said:

Life flows from water and water holds all life. Water is precious, an ever-flowing interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the systems undergirding human well-being: food production, shelter, transport, energy, play, industry, and health. And yet water is not with all of us. Globally, among regions, between localities, water is a profoundly unevenly distributed resource, and its scarcity prompts hardship, a loss of dignity, conflict, even death. These are some of the reasons why this research is so important in South Africa.

The programme will also see three research projects being conducted, including application-based potable water test strips.

This will promote access to access to safe water in vulnerable communities and citizen science. 

Claude Leon Foundation chairperson William Frankel said issues relating to the environment and water were crucial to the country and the world. 

“I am delighted that the Claude Leon Foundation will be partnering with Wits University in this important area of research, which will also include involvement with the University of Edinburgh and the University of the Western Cape.

“We are proud that the new Research Chairs at Wits will not only serve as academic research chairs but will also be involved in addressing issues of inequality and social justice in relation to water,” Frankel said. 

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