KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa — At South Africa’s biggest national park, wildlife officials are warning of difficult weeks ahead: unless significant rains come, animals will start dying.
This is the harsh reality of life in a country suffering its worst drought in decades. Cattle are already dying, and crops have been destroyed. Many South Africans are dealing with drinking water shortages, and volunteers have been delivering emergency water supplies to communities in dire need.
William Mabasa, spokesman for the Kruger National Park, says that visitors to the park may be upset to see wildlife suffering, but drought is a natural cycle like fire and floods.
“Those with strong genes will survive,” he said.
Hippos will be among the first animals affected. They typically stay cool in rivers and water pools during the heat of the day, going to graze at night — but are now spending more time grazing during daytime as they struggle find enough food.
Kruger is a vast park in South Africa’s northeast, bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Animals here rely largely on rivers, though water holes are supplied by park management in some places.
Park officials say they are working with communities and farms outside Kruger’s boundaries to manage water usage in the five major rivers that flow through the park.
But rangers say they won’t be making any major changes to save plants and animals from the drought, seeing it as a natural process.
According to Mabasa, in the 1990s a drought reduced the park’s population of Cape buffalos by more than half, to around 14,000. The number of buffalos has since recovered and now stands at more than 40,000.
While hippos along with buffalo will suffer, larger predators including lions and leopards are expected to benefit from the drought, by giving them an advantage on weaker prey.
According to the South African Weather Service, 2015 was the country’s driest year since 1904 when record-keeping began.
The drought, during what is normally the summer rainy season in most of South Africa, has been exacerbated by a strong El Niño. The weather phenomenon brings drier conditions to southern Africa.
Take an African scientist and an African engineer and ask them to find a solution to water-borne problems that impact on 783 million people, and cause 443 million ‘lost school days a year’ due to disease. Chances are that they will come up with a solution to provide Africans with safe, healthy drinking water.
For Dr Lloyd Muzangwa, a Zimbabwean scientist, and his friend George Kahabuka, a Tanzanian engineer, knowledge is something that has to be shared with others.
“Life does not measure you on the basis of your credentials, but on the results you deliver,” they explain. This philosophy formed the basis of their entry into the recent Standard Bank Water 4 Africa challenge. Dr Muzangwa’s and Kahabuka’s submission was announced as the winner of the ‘Mid-stage’ (tested solutions, ready for first deployment) category of the competition, which saw them walking away with a prize of US$5,000 for the development of their MAJI 1200 water purification system.
The category was one of three that saw inventors from around the globe competing for the honours for their innovative work in developing water solutions that could be implemented across the African continent.
Winners in other categories were:
· Late stage (deployed solutions, ready for scale) – a single prize of US$10,000, which was awarded to the inventor of the SpaTap in Australia.
· Early stage (new and promising concepts) – which saw three prizes of US$2,000 each being awarded to inventors Joel Mukanga of Uganda, Felix Manyogote of Tanzania, and James Murphy of South Africa.
Applying their minds and scientific and engineering skills, gleaned in Africa as well as with major US and European high tech companies, the inventors of the MAJI 1200 saw it as their duty to use their abilities to benefit Africa’s people.
Their prize money will go towards the construction of MAJI 1200 units that will be donated to schools in far-flung areas of rural Zimbabwe. Bringing together the natural energy of the African sun and trends in modern water purification practice, the MAJI 1200 promises to bring first-world science and engineering knowledge about potable water to African water treatment, explains the 28-year-old Dr Muzangwa.
He adds that he spent his childhood in rural Zimbabwe, but now spends his time as a researcher in the areas of chemistry, physics, astro-chemistry and astro-biology.
“The MAJI 1200 system uses innovative ultraviolet (UV) light technology and solar energy to purify water, using technology that is becoming acceptable to public and regulatory agencies for use as an alternative disinfectant.”
“When municipalities install UV systems, the water supply is protected from chlorine-resistant micro-organisms. UV disinfection can also be used as a virus-barrier against Adenovirus – a major cause of respiratory problems and diarrhea – in a multi-barrier strategy to provide confidence in water supply.”
“While chemical disinfectants destroy or damage a microbe’s cellular structure, UV light inactivates microbes by damaging their DNA, thereby preventing the microbe’s ability to replicate (or infect the host). UV light does not impart tastes or odours to water as chlorine does, and does not form harmful disinfection by-products, or increase bacterial regrowth in distribution systems.”
“The MAJI 1200 can be used as a mobile or fixed water disinfection system. It can help communities in rural areas since it is solar powered, is relatively affordable to construct, and delivers high volumes of water. It is basically a maintenance-free system in which only the lamp and filter require replacement.”
Looking to the future of the system, Dr Muzangwa says that funding is required to set up an installation plant in Africa. A positive spin-off of this could be job opportunities with each installation being tended to and operated by people trained in its use.
With the present cost running at approximately US$2,000 per unit, funding to scale up production and conduct further research would be a bonus. To this end, active lobbying for donors, sponsors, NGOs, and governments is underway.
In the meantime, the MAJI 1200 inventors aren’t resting on their laurels. They are developing other systems that use generators and electricity as well as smaller purification systems.
“The MAJI 1200 is undoubtedly a most exciting project from Africa to emerge from the Water 4 Africa challenge. It is already attracting interest in Zimbabwe and Tanzania and has the potential to open access to healthy water for millions of Africans,” says Jayshree Naidoo, Innovation Thought Leader at Standard Bank.
“It is exactly the type of innovative contribution we were seeking when we sponsored Water 4 Africa, and sought global input in major areas of water conservation. These ranged from ensuring the sustainability of groundwater resources, sanitation, and purification of water including solar, through to filtration of water, as well as innovative solutions to promote wise water use.
“Harnessing the internet ensured that inventors and social entrepreneurs from across the globe could take part in helping solve a significant African problem. By using ‘crowd sourcing’, a powerful tool to gather innovative ideas and identify practical solutions to address the water issues, we ensured that collaboration around water saving projects could take place, regardless of geographical boundaries.”
“It was particularly encouraging to see that of the five winners announced across categories, four are from the African continent. It is great to see that Africans from all walks of life are involved in their communities and are intent on spending their time and talents to benefit others,” concludes Naidoo.
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Since time immemorial humankind has had a special relationship with water. Its life-giving essence has been the foundation for all development. Great civilizations have been built around water and in the future wars may well be fought over it.
Water is life – without it nothing can flourish or grow. At the 7th World Water Forum (WWF) held in April in South Korea it became apparent that there was an urgent need to turn words into action. The WWF specifically looked at the need to find solutions to the world’s water and sanitation challenges.
According to the UN, a child dies every 15 seconds from a waterborne disease, and an estimated 200 million hours are spent each year by women and girls carrying water to their homes. More than one in three people across the planet have no access to decent sanitation facilities, and one in seven have no choice but to defecate in the open. An estimated 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in open water courses every day.
Given these stark realities, South Africa must act. For us to realise sustainable development, we must secure our water supply in line with the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals developed by a UN working group last year. These goals are up for discussion at a UN summit set to take place in September in New York and are to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of this year.
Under Goal 6 countries are expected to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. This will be done by pursuing six clear targets that must be achieved by 2030.
Equitable access to safe, drinkable water for all.
Access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all.
Improvements to water quality through the reduction of pollution.
Substantial increases in water-use efficiencies.
Implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels, including through trans-boundary co-operation.
Protecting and restoring water-related eco-systems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes (this to be achieved by 2020).
The deliberations in Korea culminated in the release of an “implementation roadmap”, widely expected to act as a mechanism to turn long-spoken-of water and sanitation solutions into actions that will benefit those suffering shortages on the ground. It will also provide major inputs for the UN’s September summit.
It is important to stress that solving the world’s water and sanitation challenges must take local solutions into account. A one size-fits-all approach does not work. What we need is a single vision and many voices, and embrace local solutions.
We support the results of the 7th World Water Forum and look forward to the ‘Implementation Roadmap’, along with its relevant monitoring system, which could be considered as a reference for establishing implementation and monitoring guidelines of water-related goals in the post-2015 development agenda.
Challenges facing our department include: ageing water and sanitation infrastructure, a rising lack of technical skills, poor water services planning and prioritisation at many municipalities, shifting patterns in water demand, climate change and changing rainfall patterns and inadequate water supply in several areas of the country, with winter being a critical period.
Despite these challenges, South Africa has managed to exceed the Millennium Development Goal target set in 2000 by the UN. South Africa, the world’s 30th-driest country, hit the MDG target of countries halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2005 and 2008.
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Our farmers, who balance in their green fingers the delicate scales of food security and social equity, also face the commercial pressure of international
markets and shifts in consumption patterns. Yet South Africa’s commercial agriculture sector is increasingly viewed by upstream and downstream industries. The government especially views the sector as an overly thirsty and at times thrifty water user.
The term ‘farm water’ refers to water used to irrigate crops, leach harmful salts from fields, and to manage the environment. Water Bombs For Farmers
Recently, agriculture’s 62% guaranteed supply of our country’s surface water was fingered personally by the Environment and Water Affairs Ministry for nipping mining and industry growth in the bud, with a sweeping wag at using excess water as a private sector trading stock.
The National Water Policy Review, now in circulation, aims to address legislative gaps in the sector, and arguably seeks nationalisation of temporary and permanent water trading of any nature. With 98% of this “basic human right” resource allocated – and a huge rural access backlog, the logic is clear.
Interestingly, however, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) cites a greater reliance on farmer-owned and -operated irrigation among its key water-saving measures.
Water – Tricky Flow Models
While the world population grew from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7 billion, the irrigated area doubled and water withdrawals tripled. When scarce water is under human control via irrigation systems, and irrigation gets a bad rap, it’s a sign to investigate the problems and the potential for improved efficiency. To review irrigation practices, farmers must test cost and time overruns; poor management; the non-realization of full, planned benefits; adverse environmental
and health impacts; and the exacerbation of inequities in the existing social and economic distribution of assets.
Globally since the mid-70s, ballooning construction costs, falling wheat and rice prices, the environmental and social cost revolution and poor irrigation performance at farm level have combined to shrink the necessary growth in the coverage of irrigated land. Just as ageing irrigation projects have produced gradually declining yields, modernization of existing irrigation projects is becoming increasingly expensive. Old projects that were designed for mnocropping
also need to be redesigned to permit crop diversity, increase yields, conserve water and reduce environmental hazards.
Modernization involves canal lining, improved hydraulic control structures, better land development and appropriate irrigation techniques. Leading The Farm Horse To Water Economic water scarcity means a lack of infrastructure, with people often having to fetch water from rivers for domestic and agricultural use.
The resulting over-development of hydraulic infrastructure for irrigation often leads to environmental degradation and declining groundwater. Around 1.3-million hectares of South African farmland is under irrigation. The ideal is to apply the right amount of water, at the correct application rate and uniformly to a field, at the right time, with the least amount of non-beneficial water consumption (losses), and as economically as possible, says the Agricultural Research Council. The agriculture sector faces a complex challenge: producing more food of better quality while using less water per unit of output; providing rural peoplem with resources and opportunities to live a healthy and productive life; applying clean technologies that ensure environmental sustainability; and contributing in productively to the economy.
Fluid Institutional Guides
With agriculture in constant evolution, irrigation needs to adapt to new, more stringent requirements. The supply of water within large irrigated systems needs to be much more reliable and flexible than in the past. Sound simple? The South African Framework for Improved Efficiency of Irrigation Water Use views water-management infrastructure from four vantage points: the water source, bulk conveyance system, irrigation scheme and irrigation farm.
The South African Irrigation Institute represents 450 designers, engineers, soil scientists, crop experts, economists and irrigation farmers, as well as 50 manufacturers and suppliers of irrigation equipment, applying their minds to this task. The FAO’s approach to irrigation and drainage, widely used today, is based on the relative yield loss of any crop, whether it be either herbaceous or woody species, to the relative reduction of water consumption, i.e. evapotranspiration, specific for any given crop and condition. Responding to the evolutionary idea of synthetic water production needs over the last three decades, the FAO created a unique crop simulation model, called AquaCrop.
This simulation model calculates the crop biomass, based on the amount of water transpired, and the crop yield as the proportion of biomass that goes
into the harvestable parts.
Cannot Control What Can’t Be Measured
South African commercial farmers, and their institutional guides, would do well to invest more time and money into water measuring equipment. This will allow them to correctly measure and protect the precious water resources allocated to them, while at the same time reducing associated electricity costs. By combining the FAO’s AquaCrop model with a trusty water metering system, farmers can better motivate the retention of their water allocations to water authorities. In turn, water authorities will have more reliable data to base their vital decisions on.
The financial returns of an irrigator are strongly correlated with the volume and pattern of irrigation water application – saving water and electricity costs, says the Water Research Commission (WRC). The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) will also publish new regulations for river, irrigation scheme and
farm water measurement, ensuring stricter enforcement of water metering.
Whereto From Here
To assist farmers and policy-makers, the WRC published a report for sustainable on-farm and on-scheme irrigation water measurement with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, guiding the process to effectively implement water measurement at river, irrigation scheme and
farm level in South Africa.