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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Water research initiative expands

The University of Stellenbosch will lead an initiative to expand a Southern African network of centres of excellence in water research for the next three years.

Nepad's principle of basing development on Africa's resources and the resourcefulness of its people resulted in the water initiative being one of its flagship programmes.

After the first African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology held in Johannesburg in 2003, Nepad centres of excellence in water research were started to strengthen Africa's capacity to use technology to secure adequate clean water and manage the continent's resources as a basis for national and regional cooperation and development.

Centres are already operating in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

"The initiative focuses on people and strengthening networks, and not on funding specific research topics," explained Professor Eugene Cloete, who chairs the initiative's executive committee and is dean of the faculty of science at Stellenbosch.

He said all 15 Southern Africa Development Community countries would be invited to become partners, as they have water research programmes that meet Nepad centres of excellence criteria that need them to be higher education institutions or science councils.

The water initiative aims to promote cooperation and knowledge transfer between organisations involved in water research in the region to improve resource management, policy formulation, the provision of high-quality water sources in rural and urban areas and water purification technology. It also targets limiting damage caused by floods.

Possible means to deliver clean and adequate water have been laid out in training courses for students and technical personnel, and scientists are linked to policy-makers so that informed political decisions can be made.

Cloete told University World News the initiative was focusing on strengthening the regional water researchers' network as well as capacity-building projects such as the provision of bursaries for staff and postgraduate students, and technology and knowledge transfer through workshops and conferences.

"When African countries and the international community adopted the Millennium Development Goals at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, African leaders identified water scarcity and related insecurity as one of the sources of the continent's under-development and increasing economic decline," Cloete said. "Hence the focus on water research and capacity building."

Other players in the initiative include South African institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the University of the Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which will participate in the programme as equal partners and be in its governance structures.

The initiative is supported financially by the South African Department of Science and Technology, and is recognised by the African Ministers' Council on Water, a group of ministers tasked with water affairs in countries across Africa.
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