The water challenges in Southern Africa are immense. Floodings, droughts; water and climate related disasters always seem to be just around the corner. On November 25, the Blue Deal partnerships of eSwatini, Mozambique and South Africa joined forces in the first joined regional Blue Deal exchange meeting in Johannesburg. Here they discussed the issues regarding data management of water data.
The 3 countries face similar challenges: how to ensure financial stability? How can data sharing within and between countries be improved? And many technical hurdles, for example how to integrate the now often still separate data systems? As Ntombikayise Dhladhla, participant of the Blue Deal Young Expert Programme, explained: “In eSwatini, the main issues are reliability of the data, which leads to limited data sharing. We are working in silos.”
During the day the Blue Deal teams of the 3 countries looked back on Phase 1 of the Blue Deal. Experiences and lessons learnt were shared. Looking to the future, people shared their ideas on which topics the partnerships can work together. Ideas included working together on a central database, organizing shared lab facilities and connecting existing databases.
Ambassador Han Peters mentioned the importance of long-term equal partnerships, which are the basis for the Blue Deal: “No one country can solve the problems of today on their own. You need different perspectives, you need people from different backgrounds if you want to get to the greatest solutions.” And with this first regional meeting of 3 Blue Deal partnerships, a strong start has been made.
On November 24, the Blue Deal Conference for the South Africa Partnership was held in Johannesburg. David Mahlobo, the South African Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, and Dutch and South African employees of the various projects were present. During the conference, the partner agreement for the Blue Deal Phase 2, which runs from 2023 to 2030, was signed.
Clean and sufficient water for 2.5 million people in South Africa by 2030: that is the goal of the South Africa Blue Deal partnership. South African and Dutch water experts work together to improve water quality in major rivers. The partnership runs from 2018 to 2030.
Hein Pieper, chairman of the Blue Deal for South Africa, was there: “We have to go faster, in this second phase. Climate change makes that necessary. And I’m not just talking about institutional changes. Projects succeed because people take responsibility. They act on the basis of underlying values and feel ownership of a project. Here in South Africa, it is about the immense importance of clean water for the basic needs of 2.5 million people.”
Objective: improving the water quality of the major rivers
The 4 projects of Phase 1 (2018-2022) focused on improving the water quality of major rivers such as the Vaal River, the Crocodile River and the Msunduzi River. A large part of this period was during the corona crisis during which only virtual meetings were possible. The Dutch and South African water experts who worked together learned a lot during this period. They kept in touch, organized virtual missions and shared knowledge through webinars. For example, about combating the water hyacinth, innovation in purification, community involvement and river management.
Reflection and looking forward
The Blue Deal conference was an important moment to reflect on the process of recent years, the successes and the challenges. Not everything went smoothly during the corona years. Political changes created different relationships and priorities. It is difficult to deal with this in an exclusively digital environment.
That’s why it’s important to keep meeting each other. That opportunity was there during the conference. More than 140 participants from various cooperation partners attended. Not only to look back, but especially to look forward to Phase 2, while using the experience of previous years. And with an increasing understanding of how we can share it with people facing similar challenges. Not only in South Africa, but also beyond.
That may all sound a bit abstract. Concrete examples? In Blesbokspruit, the local population uses the removed water hyacinth, a proliferating exotic that impedes the flow of water, as raw material for useful products. In the Vredefort Dome project, the local population is encouraged by the Blue Deal to keep the river free of waste. Blue Deal members also performed remote, virtual inspections of treatment plants in the Crocodile project. And in the Msunduzi project, the Blue Deal shared vital data between various organizations.
Curious? An impression of the projects at the end of Phase 1 of the Blue Deal South Africa can be viewed in the video.
New project added
We will enthusiastically continue with the 4 existing Blue Deal projects. And there will be a new project: Theewaterskloof. There we will work on the waste (water) problem in a township in an urban area that is expanding rapidly.a
The 19th of July was a day of celebration for 11 women in Blesbokspruit, South Africa. After a training of 6 or 12 weeks they finished their training in entrepreneurship from the Thekga company. The women have been trained to make useful products out of the harvested water hyacinth.
The Blesbokspruit project is part of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa. The objective of this project is to improve the water quality and thereby restore the ecological status of the wetland. The project aims to improve quality of the water in the Vaal river area, which millions of people depend on.
From threat to opportunity
The use of the water hyacinth for the production of articles and home decoration is an interesting example of how a threat can be changed in an opportunity. The water hyacinth is one of the invasive species that blossom as a result of the bad water quality in many locations in South Africa. The water hyacinth gets removed by hand and by machines. There are also plans to use the water hyacinth on a wider scale for biobased products because there is plenty of it. When a water hyacinth plant blooms, the seeds will stay in the ground for 20 years, which means it is a difficult specie to eradicate.
Blesbokspruit work visit
The celebration of the graduates was part of the program of the Blesbokspruit work visit in July 2022. Other important parts of the visit were:
the preparation of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with all the stakeholders in September 2022;
the evaluation of the results and lessons learned of the first phase of this Blue Deal partnership;
the preparation for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal programme;
the selection of a new Young Expert for a traineeship programme of 2 years;
the alignment of the water quality goals, activities and planning.
South Africans deal with water issues in a very special way. We can learn a lot from them, says Hans Waals, chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.
“It is not where you start, but how high you aim that matters for success.” These words from Nelson Mandela fit perfectly with the ambitious goals of the Blue Deal: to help 20 million people in 14 different countries to have clean, sufficient and safe water. Strategic consultant at the Dutch water authority Hollandse Delta Hans Waals is chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.
As such, Waals knows how severe the consequences of drought can be. “Like in Cape Town 6 years ago. The city was at a serious risk of running out of water altogether. To avert this catastrophe the city council and water authority started to warn the people. By continuously informing them of the consequences, they succeeded in bringing down household water consumption by more than halve. They did not go from 100 to 0 overnight. They reduced consumption in stages. But they made it. Day zero never came, but it was a close call.”
“Over the years, we have built a good water network in South Africa,” Waals says. “Our contribution is aimed at improving water quality and water availability. We do this, for example, by training managers and maintenance people of sewage treatment plants.”
In South Africa, there are very large differences between the various ethnic groups, Waals goes on. “These are also reflected in the distribution of water. 60 per cent of the available freshwater goes to agriculture and 95 per cent of that goes to rich white farmers. Because of South Africa’s past, other groups have been put at a disadvantage. They do not have the knowledge to stand up for themselves. So stakeholder empowerment and levelling the playing field are very important.”
That is why the South Africans have found a clever way of involving stakeholders in their water management. And the Netherlands can learn a lot from this, says Waals. “So water authorities organize a meeting 4 times a year, where all stakeholder groups come together and explain what their interests are. Together, they then decide what needs to be done. In this way, they get to know each other and understand each other’s situation better.”
“I once experienced a session like that about the drought in Kwazulu Natal. There were no acute problems yet, but there was the prospect of them. Instead of quarreling about a solution, both industry and agriculture as well as the people of Kwazulu Natal agreed to reduce their water consumption straightaway, so there would be more water left for the really dry period. All groups agreed, voluntarily. I think that’s amazing.”
In November 2021 the Dutch team was finally able to meet their colleagues from the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa again. They visited the Crocodile River Project. The project is now ready to start again.
Because of COVID-19 the project collaboration went on only via digital meetings. And few will deny, this was sometimes quite a challenge. Due to this, the project came to a halt. Fortunately, in November 2021 it was possible for the team to meet each other live again, which was very inspiring. Now the project is back on track.
Buhle Shongwe, technician Water Demand & Conservation: “We want to grab each and every opportunity, so we’re excited to be working once again with you.”
The suffocating water hyacinth is a threat to water quality and biodiversity in South Africa. Together with the residents of Blesbokspruit, South Africa, the Blue Deal partners turned this threat into a business opportunity.
Residents weave beautiful baskets, lampshades and even armchairs from the dried plants and sell them. Watch how they do this in this short video.
Regional water managers in the Netherlands, Germany, eSwatini, Mozambique and South Africa have been sharing experiences for ten years now. What binds them is how you work together in border regions.
From 17-19 November, the lustrum took place at the River and Environmental Management Cooperation in South Africa. Problems such as drought, flooding, climate change and women empowerment were discussed. The Deputy Minister of South Africa endorsed the importance of seeking solutions in the Blue Deal partnerships.
The KIWI learning programme recently organised a lecture by professor Guy Alaerts about the unruly nature of international water management and solutions for complex water problems.
Water managers worldwide are looking for integrated solutions for complex water problems. Major investments are often required to become climate proof, but finding financing is difficult. Water managers and financial institutions do not know where to find each other and converting globally available financing into concrete projects on a large scale is difficult. Watch the lecture below. The lecture is in Dutch, but can be viewed with subtitles.
More than 200 participants took part in the webinar on community involvement in South Africa on 21th April 2021. Various stakeholders in the field of water use, water resources and water resources met online to discuss water scarcity and community involvement in South Africa.
The webinar presentation by Ms. T. Sigwaza, who represented the national central South African government, highlighted how important she finds community involvement in issues related to water resource management. Water users, water sources and water supplies come together as interests in a context of water scarcity.
The Umgeni River is strategically the most important in the KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa. The river system is faced with a myriad of challenges, including alien and invasive plants, riverside erosion, streamside cultivation, agricultural effluent releases, sewage and factory discharge, unlawful dumping, illegal sand mining and broad-spectrum pollution. Fortunately, several people and organizations are confronting these challenging issues.
The Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust made a video about their work to shape community involvement with the Amanzi Ethu Nobuntu project. A group is working on cleaning up the riverbed, removing invasive plants from the river and carrying out small-scale repairs to the sewage systems.
TU Delft and Erasmus University, in collaboration with Dutch Water Authorities, have launched a study into water management knowledge exchange. The universities are investigating which lessons the Dutch regional water authorities take abroad.
As part of the study into water management knowledge exchange university researchers are looking at the lessons learned at an individual level, group level and organisational level. The aim is to find out exactly what effect these lessons have on organisations.
A questionnaire is sent out via the Dutch Water Authorities foreign coordinators. It is hoped that insight can be gained into the possibilities and limiting factors of international knowledge sharing.