Water Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap: Department of Science and Technology briefing

Science and Technology

24 February 2016
Chairperson: Dr M Goqwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) presented Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap to respond to the need for innovative solutions, technologies and processes in addressing the current drought facing South Africa, given that 98% of the country’s water supplies are fully allocated. The intention of the DST in formulating the RDI Roadmap was to bring attention to the water scarcity crisis facing South Africa and on a global perspective. Climate related changes, high rates of water pollution and the difficulty associated with the cleaning up process thereafter, together with the growing world population and the total world water resources remaining fixed due to the inability to create water, are identified as factors that contribute to the growth of the global water scarcity emergency.

The World Economic Forum of 2015 and 2016 pronounced water as the number one global risk, which proves to be a pressing problem that emphasises the need for research development in the water sector.

South Africa’s National Development Plan’s 2030 projection based on population and economic growth anticipates the country’s water demand to exceed supply by 17%, at which time, half the world is expected to be water scarce. The objectives of the RDI Roadmap are thus to execute water research that is consistent with the country’s broad policy on science and innovation as well as to facilitate partnerships and investment opportunities that will establish funding that the DST currently lacks.

Committee members appreciated the presentation and its emphasis on the urgency to find solutions to the global water crisis. Common matters of concern among members were the DST’s funding and their need to reduce the pro bono work they perform for other departments to allow them to save, and secondly, that of utilising South Africa’s sea water as a water source and a number of inquiries were raised about innovation possibilities.

Meeting report

Mr Henry Roman, Director of Environmental Services and Technologies at DST, briefed the Committee on the global nature of the water crisis to highlight the importance of water research, development and innovations that are expected to provide solutions to the problem of water scarcity.

Mr Roman stated that R7.2 billion is being lost in the country annually as a result of non-revenue water, which constitutes water lost as a result of leaks in the system, and non payment. The significant loss in the system is accompanied by 98% of all the country’s water supplies being fully allocated, which entails that there is no room for error in the management of water. The RDI Roadmap is thus aimed at responding to the need for innovative solutions and technologies as well as high skilled individuals.

In 2015, when the Water RDI Roadmap was approved, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) integrated the Roadmap into their response plan for their National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS2), which prioritised achieving equity of water allocation in the country and conserving water and managing water demand. In the same year, the Water Research Commission (WRC) consecutively incorporated the Roadmap into their annual strategy as well. The DST plan is complemented by the Global Change Research Plan which prioritises, among others, water security for South Africa and technological innovation for sustainable social-ecological systems.

Mr Roman explained that in developing the Roadmap, 32 workshops were held with 62 different organisations, to gather their input and unpack the needs of the country. The finalised Roadmap is grounded on three pillars: Human Capital Development, Research and Development as well as Innovation. These pillars are the means aimed at targeting the virtually used up water resources, the R7.2 billion yearly losses in non-revenue water and the crisis of water demand being anticipated to exceed supply by 2030.


• The water supply cluster channels include the use of sources – this involves increasing the ability to make use of more sources as well as alternative sources such as desalination and rain water harvesting.
• Government planning and management is concerned with improving governance and the management of supply and delivery, improving the performance of supply infrastructure and running water as a financially sustainable business by improving operational performance.
• The water demand channels are targeted at reducing the wastage in the system through improving the management of water demand and use, reducing losses and increasing efficiency of productive use and improving the pricing, monitoring, metering and billing performance.

It is expected that with the success of the innovation interventions, a reduction of 15% in water losses will yield R3.5 billion in cost savings.

A key aspect in achieving increased RDI outputs is to focus attention on Human Capital Development, as this involves building the skills that will allow for technological developments to be built. In the case of DST, this comprises of increasing the numbers of Masters, Doctorates and Post Doctoral researchers.

A Water Technologies Demonstration Programme called Wader started a Technology Accelerator Programme in partnership with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) which publishes a call to take technologies that are ready for commercialisation and to pilot them into municipalities. SALGA’s commitment to the partnership was accompanied by a R350 000 contribution to the call. The two systems being contracted are the Aquatrip water system that detects surges and trips in a domestic water system and switches off the valve to cut off water supply until the trip has been fixed. Secondly is the Arumloo system which is a low flush toilet technology that uses two litres of water to flush as opposed to the common six or twelve litre systems. Both systems are currently being tested and demonstrated in schools in the City of Johannesburg.

Mr Roman revealed that the DST is in partnership with HITACHI in a scholarship programme aimed at young South African engineers from water utilities or municipalities, aimed at building capacity in municipalities.

In conclusion, Mr Roman put forward the plans that the DST has for the year ahead (2016/17), which include the establishment of the Water RDI unit at the WRC, the development of a Water NSI partnership and tracking system in order to track all the funds that go into the system and the development of a Consolidated Partnership and Co-Funding Strategy which will include the private sector. Where budget requirements for the plan are concerned, Mr Roman explained that the DST can only contribute R12 million and that the WRC contribution has not yet been confirmed. In conclusion, he explained that if the full impact of the roadmap should be realised, a yearly total of R834 million is required.

The Chairperson appreciated the presentation as he deemed it necessary to give awareness to the water crisis given the importance of water and the seriousness of the issue of fixed water supplies versus the growing population. The water crisis is not only facing South Africa, it is an issue facing the world at large and there is thus a need to work together with the global world to conserve water because those who do not cooperate and continue to misuse water will adversely affect the entire system. Human capital and research are important to finding solutions.

Ms L Maseko (ANC) addressed the R843 million that was required for the Water Research Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap, particularly, where the money is expected to come from, given that the DST is usually involved in pro bono work for a number of departments. A suggestion would be for the DST to do paid work for the relevant departments in order to raise the necessary funds. On the human capital numbers where masters, doctorates and post doctoral researchers are concerned, she asked if the anticipated RDI outputs are measured annually and how the figures were measured. The issue of acid mine drainage is an interesting and important one that exists in Gauteng and has proven to be a huge problem. SALGA contributed R350 000 to the cause and several more donations such as these will be necessary. In relation to drain water retention, and flush water systems that have been described as being too big and thus contributing to water wastage, what strategies have been devised to address them?

Mr Roman responded that the anticipated outputs of the human capital figures are estimated over a ten-year period instead of per annum, and that they are striving to have a system that produces PhDs as well as absorbs PhDs. He further explained the DST needs to be able to conduct tests for new technologies and that the municipality holds strict rules with regards to these experiments.On the R843 million needed, he confirmed that a lot of the work that DST is involved in is indeed pro bono work. This is why they are always short of funds and cannot afford to pay that amount, and are thus attempting to make a bid with DWS and to target both the DWS and Coaltech to provide funding.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) brought attention to slide number 11 where the matter of a R3.5billion cost saving associated with reducing water loss is specified, and requested an elaboration on the innovation interventions, and how soon changes and improvements can be expected to be realised. He also asked if research on ocean water was being conducted.

Mr Roman responded that the R3.5 billion needs to be saved and then put into infrastructure. However, DST can only talk to the relevant departments and advise them on the necessary actions. This is a reason for their partnership with SALGA as they have the context of being a representative in every municipality in the country, therefore, convincing SALGA is key. The Department of Environmental Affairs with the Natural Resource Management team are involved in the Alien Vegetation Clearance Programme and Working for Water Programme among others. However, lack of communication between researchers conducting research at the Eastern Cape catchments results in a clear picture of the entire situation being distorted, and they are thus unable to construct a strategy that will assist in the efficient management of the catchment. There are efforts aimed at rectifying the situation and clearing the aliens will to allow for an improvement of water resources.

The Chairperson asked that the DST elaborate on the statistic they mentioned concerning the planet comprising 70% water which largely consists of sea water. He particularly sought details about what the relevance of the desalination process would be in a unique country such as South Africa which is surrounded by sea water.

Mr Roman responded by briefly explaining that in the water cycle, evaporative losses condense in the atmosphere and that cycle involves water neither being created nor destroyed anywhere, which is the reason for water being finite.With regards to HITACHI, there has been engagement with the DST for approximately four years and two weeks ago, a meeting was held by HITACHI, DWS and Department of Trade and Industry members and it was concluded that HITACHI will pilot a technology with the eThekwini municipality to desalinate sea water that will then be treated for human consumption. The desalination process is made hard by the fact that the mineral content in sea water is high and the process is both costly and not environmentally friendly. It thus poses as both a solution and a problem.

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director General: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, explained that the DST’s Roadmap strategy that has been adopted over the past five years is intended at specifying what is needed for the country and a large part of it is aimed at gradually showing the value of the Roadmap and securing long term sustainable funding pools. The Roadmap is thus used to obtain partnerships and as a way of drawing in funding. The appeal of the Roadmap is that it does not only focus on technology, but a lot of the effort is on social sciences and behavior issues as well as school education, governance and management. Solutions to South Africa’s water crisis exist, however, there is a need to find solutions that are cost effective and that undergo independent, credible evaluations of the technology.

Ms Maseko asked whether there is a connection to the borehole project being implemented in Gauteng, and asked if there is collaboration with the South African National Defence Force because they train youth members and there are a lot of skills and expertise to be utilised.

Mr Roman agreed that the borehole project was conducted by the City of Joburg, but that it is not however, a solution that can be adopted by everyone due the location of strategic aquifers needing to be considered. He explained that there is the risk of depleting the aquifers, which would take several years to refill, in which time, natural rocks would pollute the water. He admitted to never having considered collaborating with the South African National Defence Force and agrees that it is an area of expertise that would be beneficial to consider.

The Chairperson indicated that humans tend to behave without taking consideration of the consequences of their actions and he believes the water crisis to be a case in point. He further suggested that a possible solution is to consider ways of capping the population to defuse the crisis of a growing population and a fixed water supply. He concluded that the Committee had received a valuable lesson from the presentation, and an appreciation for the possibilities and solutions that science has to offer.

The meeting was adjourned.


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