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SAEON – keeping a scientific eye on sustainable development

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Industrial demands on water come from the need to grow agricultural production, and an explosion of mining activities, urbanisation and upmarket developments like golf estates

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How will river health be affected by climate change? Issues such as these have gradually led SAEON to develop an ecohydrology programme

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SAEON has re-established the streamflow monitoring programmes at Jonkershoek and Cathedral Peak (pictured) to keep a scientific eye on the main drivers of water production in catchments

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"SAEON has developed an observation approach to ecohydrology through which we will endeavour to keep a scientific eye on the main drivers of water production in catchments." - Johan Pauw, MD

By Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON

The importance of water in South Africa is growing from all three perspectives of sustainable development, namely its ecological, economic and political realms.

Folk songs have long underlined that enough clean water is essential for society to survive and prosper. One in particular reprimands children for playing in the water because adults need drinking water (Kinders moenie in die water mors nie… an old Afrikaans song).

Population growth means that more people will need more water and this is also linked to a general increase in living standards following the onset of democracy in 1994 and the expansion of services to impoverished communities. The industrial demands on water come from the need to grow agricultural production, and an explosion of mining activities, urbanisation and upmarket developments like golf estates. A ceteris paribus view would therefore emphatically confirm that the demand for water is increasing.

Where this water will come from in the future is far less certain and the cause of much debate. Some argue that we have enough water for many decades to come, others say that we simply need to limit wastage and use water more efficiently.

Climate change and water

The uncertainty of climate change is a major factor. Irrespective of whether this change is seen in the amount, pattern or variability of rainfall, we need to understand how the natural systems which deliver the water we use are going to respond. How will catchments and river ecosystems be affected by changing climatic regimes? How valid will the “ecological reserve” concept remain under conditions of extreme weather patterns? Many more questions may be asked on how the ecological systems supporting water delivery will be affected and the consequences for society.

SAEON has therefore developed an observation approach to ecohydrology through which we will endeavour to keep a scientific eye on the main drivers of water production in catchments. This has led us to re-establish the streamflow monitoring programmes at Jonkershoek and Cathedral Peak. This monitoring is supported by vegetation monitoring, weather stations and eddy-covariance flux towers to further understand the processes that may be driving a change in the water cycle.

Relatively undisturbed upper catchments allow us to uncover the real impacts of climate change on our water resources. Research and monitoring at SAEON's other sites around the country provide further insight into the impact of global change on rivers, wetlands and estuaries.

To support its increasing focus on the water cycle, SAEON is looking forward to appointing a hydrometeorologist to lead its ecohydrology programme.

The sophisticated instrument arrays that we are developing, will provide unique datasets that will support decision making on water resources into the future. The research associated with these datasets is already developing capacity in scarce skills through the student research that is being undertaken. To support this increasing focus on the water cycle, SAEON is now looking forward to appointing a hydrometeorologist to lead the ecohydrology programme.

These projects benefit from financial support from the Natural Resource Management branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth System Science (ACCESS) and the Department of Science and Technology.

United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network

With the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the South African Government being committed to sustainable development through a range of contributions and policies, the NRF has been approached by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN-SDSN) to assist in the establishment of a regional network. Considering the role that SAEON is playing at many levels towards achieving sustainable development, the NRF nominated SAEON to lodge an application for the establishment of the regional SDSN in southern Africa.

The plan is for SAEON to host a coordinator and a secretariat through which all the southern African players can be given a forum for discussion and the development of initiatives to advance solutions to problems preventing sustainability. We are presently awaiting the outcome of our application. More information about the SDSN may be obtained from www.unsdsn.org .

Free online course on sustainable development

In the interim, we have the pleasure of advertising a free online course on sustainable development. The course will be presented by the renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs and will be based on his latest book: The age of sustainability. The course starts on 9 September and students who finish the course on 5 December will receive a free electronic copy of the book. The signup page is http://www.sdsnedu.org/home.

Jeffrey has written: "The world has undertaken to conclude negotiations on three great topics by the end of 2015: the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new framework for global sustainable development financing, and a new climate change agreement! During the course, we will discuss all of these major negotiations, and have several opportunities for live web chat interactions together, including Q&A." I trust that many of you will join me and hundreds of others around the world on the course.

Unqualified audit for SAEON

Lastly, it deserves to be mentioned that SAEON has once again received an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General of South Africa, whose audit is performed in accordance with the International Standards on Assurance Engagements (ISAE) 3000. This result assures all our stakeholders that SAEON staff members are mindful of the fact that they are working with public funds and have to comply with expected standards and procedures for financial management and accounting.

A special word of thanks is due to Dr Amani Saidi who, as Operations Manager, has overseen the financial management processes of SAEON.

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The sophisticated instrument arrays that SAEON is developing, will provide unique datasets that will support decision making on water resources into the future.

 

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