Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR): briefing

Water and Sanitation

25 August 2004
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Meeting report


25 August 2004

This is an edited version of a report produced by kind courtesy of Contact Trust:

Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
CSIR presentation:

The CSIR presented a report to the Committee on their role in the water and forestry sectors, policy development projects, and ecosystem management. This was followed by Committee discussion around groundwater was a potential source, water fluoridation, sanitation, dry boreholes, solar power, and specialist training initiatives. The Chairperson asked that the CSIR send a report, which further outlined their work with reference to the Committee's five-year mandate and goals.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) representatives included Mr Johan de Beer, Ms Joy Leaner and Ms Bettina Genthe. The first two presented the CSIR's report on water and sanitation projects. Their focus was on water resource management for sustainable economic and social development, and ensuring all citizens had access, and that the resource was efficiently used. For further information, please see the attached documents.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked about groundwater, reminding the Committee of its prominence in the Water Act. He wondered whether recent research had managed to work out whether groundwater was a potential source, considering South Africa's status as a water scarce country.

Mr de Beer said that groundwater had slowly become recognised as a hidden resource. The reality was that a number of towns and villages were solely dependent on groundwater. However, a small aquifer could not support many people; so research into 'sustainable development' became important once again. Groundwater was an integrated part of the water cycle that would eventually re-emerge, evaporate and become rain. The CSIR had the biggest research group focused on groundwater in the country.

Ms M Manana (ANC) asked what could be done when boreholes dried up. She also asked how fluoride could be minimised, and their thoughts on the use of solar power.

Mr de Beer said that when boreholes dried up, it was usually too late to do anything. However, CSIR was developing methods to re-charge them, as in Atlantis, where store water could be pumped back into holes. He also mentioned Windhoek, where dam water was stored underground to prevent evaporation. On the issue of fluoride, he said there were two options. Firstly using 'membrane technology', which was expensive but efficient. Alternatively, they could mix different water to get an acceptable level of fluoride.

Ms Bettina Genthe (CSIR) said that fluoride had become topical, especially with the Health Department's move towards fluoridating water to help with dental health. This issue was a tricky one, considering the different opinions of the Health and Water Departments. She emphasised how fluoride could become more toxic and potentially dangerous when people were already malnourished.

Mr de Beer said that solar power was more of an energy issue, even though it could potentially be used to pump water. The CSIR was beginning to explore this more. Current use of renewable energy was at less than 1% of energy used in the world, and this had to be remedied.

A member asked about the CSIR's work in Limpopo province.

Ms Genthe responded that a partnership had been formed with the European Union (EU) on a project looking into water quality in Limpopo. This had the potential to be copied across Africa, as was their groundbreaking work on water contamination. Research had highlighted some highly controversial results on that needed to be further explored to establish whether water was at risk at the point of source or at point of use.

Ms Manana (ANC) asked about groundwater in the Western Cape, an issue the Committee had learnt about on a recent study tour. She then asked about capacity building, water literacy, and for more information on the Working for Water Campaign.

Mr de Beer said that a project consortium was focused on finding sites for exploration and potential boreholes in the Western Cape. He emphasised the potential environmental impact of withdrawing water in such a unique floral kingdom. There was still debate about from where fynbos drew its water supply, but that they were in the process of gaining scientific understanding around this. He agreed that there was much water that could be used in areas such as Citrusdal. The CSIR remained very proud to be involved in Working for Water initiatives, and considered it a very successful Department project.

Ms Genthe reported that the CSIR was involved with the Department in capacity building and water literacy, including national awareness campaigns with posters and educational pamphlets. The 'State of the Rivers Report' was a nationwide research survey into river health, which promoted community involvement. A partnership between the University of Fort Hare and the CSIR was engaging communities in a waste wood energy project, and that much was happening in rural communities around the country. A new project giving rural learners work experience through shadowing engineers and scientists, had been very successful.

Mr de Beer said that the CSIR and the University of Pretoria had started a Masters in Water Affairs Management, which was very popular. They had been struggling to attract high level candidates into the field, and this course would assist in developing a pool of human resources for highly skilled appointments.

A Member wondered how the projects mentioned would impact on rural dwellers with limited access to services and clean water, as she herself had been in childhood.

The Chair said that unfortunately there was not enough time to go over these questions. She asked the CSIR representatives that a report be sent, which further outlined their work with reference to the Committee's five-year mandate and goals. Sanitation work was a Committee priority and they wanted to concentrate on a two part roll-out in urban poor and rural areas. More information was needed on rural areas and sanitation, so input from the CSIR would be greatly appreciated.

Mr de Beer said in closing that research around sanitation was underway throughout the world. The developed world needed to look to the developing world for ideas, rather than vice versa. Once it was acknowledged that water resources were limited, then more progressive alternatives could be explored.

The meeting was adjourned.


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