​The 20th WaterNet/WARFSA/GWP-SA Symposium


The 20th WaterNet/WARFSA/GWP-SA Symposium will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from the 30th October – 1st November 2019 under the theme Integrated Water Resources Development and Management: Leaving No One Behind for Sustainable Water Security in Eastern and Southern Africa. The University of Johannesburg is the lead host of the 20th Symposium.

The Symposia have been held annually in the Eastern and Southern African regions for the past 19 years to promote interaction among policymakers, academics, practitioners from water and related sectors, and cooperating partners. Together, they identify regional issues, gaps and priorities that require further research and support. Great emphasis will be placed on integration of knowledge, particularly involving scholars from the natural and social sciences.

The sub-themes of the symposium have been aligned to the themes of the SADC Water Research Agenda under the Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources Development and Management Phase IV, whose main objective is:

  • Promoting evidence-based implementation of SADC water programmes and projects through multi- and inter-disciplinary research, and synthesis of existing and new information, which will lead to a realisation of SADC developmental goals.

Sub themes

Policymakers, academics, practitioners from water and related sectors, and cooperating partners are invited to register for and attend the symposium and make use of this opportunity to listen and debate findings from presentations focused on the different sub-themes. Authors wishing to present the results of their work should submit their abstracts targeting the sub-themes detailed below.

Innovative approaches, practices and technologies for affordable water supply, and sanitation services

Lack of access to safe drinking water is one of the world's leading problems affecting more than 663 million people globally, and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Many of these people have to walk long distances to and from their homes to access clean water, which can impact girls' education and increase women's time burden, as women are the primary collectors of water. It is estimated that 3.36 million children (the majority of whom are girls) and 13.54 million adult females are responsible for water collection in households with collection times greater than 30 minutes. An estimated 174 million people in Southern Africa, i.e. almost two thirds of the total population - lack access to basic latrines, while more than 100 million go without clean drinking water. Some 120,000 children under the age of five die every year in the region from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and sanitation. Cholera outbreaks have been experienced in the SADC region in recent years. The health of members of society is highly dependent on both the quality and the availability of water, and on how well this precious resource is managed.

Innovative approaches, practices and technologies are required to cater for the realisation of adequate water supply and sanitation services for all. The challenge is to identify affordable technologies that are appropriate and accepted by the intended beneficiaries. It is vital to understand how communities in both urban and rural areas are coping and adapting to water supply failures by the state, in particular focussing on self-sufficient technologies for multiple water use. Focus should be on strategies such as rainwater harvesting, use of water saving devices and special focus on groundwater given its importance for the rural population and in reducing drought impacts. The high prevalence of water borne diseases such as malaria and bilharzias in many rural areas requires that effort be made to understand the best approach to combating these, including investigating low cost technologies that can assist in fighting them.

With regards to sanitation, wastewater treatment in Africa has not been able to keep pace with rapid population growth and urbanization. Population growth, urbanisation and relative improvement in lifestyles in Africa have resulted in a rise in water consumption and an increase in discharge of wastewater. Untreated wastewater pollutes surface and groundwater and may lead to a myriad of diseases and illnesses resulting in deaths of the young and the elderly and vulnerable people. At least 1.8 million children under the age of 5, die every year due to water related diseases linked to wastewater. Africa treats only 1% of wastewater to secondary level. There is an urgent need for appropriate technologies for treating wastewater, including considering wastewater as a useful resource which can be recycled and used for productive purposes.

In addition, solid waste is not collected systematically or using proper disposal methods and poses a health hazard to residents and the environment. New and innovative approaches are required in the area of wastewater management to alleviate these challenges. The aim should be on pollution control and remediation, re-use and resource-recovery for productive purposes, solid waste characterisation and management for production and energy generation, and the linkage to hygiene, and the associated costs. Both off-site and on-site treatment should be investigated including revisiting the design standards.

Papers in this sub-theme should address sustainable water supply and sanitation development, technological advances in water supply, reuse and recycling, sanitation, water utility management and linkages to public health.

Water governance for sustainable, equitable and affordable water services

The 21st century has witnessed the unfolding of multiple water challenges which require a substantial shift in the way water resources are managed. The global water crisis has been defined as a crisis of governance, that is, the failure of water institutions to manage the resource for the well-being of humans and ecosystems. The provision of water infrastructure by itself does not guarantee the envisaged positive social outcomes. The interaction of individuals and groups through various institutional arrangements is key and should be understood. Issues that need to be examined include identifying perverse and performance-enhancing incentives, accountable financing and operational arrangements, costs of water supply, accountability and stakeholder participation.

The SADC region has made great strides in putting in place the Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses, as well as a number of transboundary water agreements which have resulted in commissions such the ones for the Zambezi, Limpopo, Orange-Senque, Okavango and Cunene basins. It is vital to analyse the extent to which these River Basin Organisations are enhancing the management of shared watercourses and how they are implementing the different provisions of their agreements. The challenges which they are facing need to be identified and discussed, such as the ones related institutional strengthening, creation of services that add value to stakeholders in riparian states   and sustainable financing of their programmes to reduce dependence on donor financing.

Good water governance is intended to enhance the human right to water and sanitation. This emphasises the principle that all people have the right to safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter and basic services. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. This is in acknowledgement that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. In pursuant to this, states and international organisations are committed to provide financial resources, enable capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. The human right to water is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights. Corruption and lack of accountability take away essential financial resources and have become key factors in the high cost, poor quality and even lack of water and sanitation services. In this and other ways they infringe on these human rights and contribute to poor performance against sustainable development goals.

This sub-theme calls for papers which address issues related to appropriate water governance arrangements at different levels, (regional, national and local), stakeholder participation in water management at various scales, legal and policy frameworks for water management and their effectiveness and water service delivery models as well, differentiated pricing/subsidisation/incentives and the human right to water.

Water, Land, Energy and Agriculture

Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world's freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply. Agricultural is by default land-based and there is competition for available land to live on and to grow food. Water, energy and land are therefore key resources required for sustainable living and livelihoods. Population growth, rapid urbanisation, changing diets and economic development are some of the factors driving increased demand for water, energy and land, which compete with agriculture. The inter-linkages between the three resources form a nexus, which needs to be better understood.

 Feeding a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60 percent increase in food production. There is, thus, a need to enhance agricultural production, sustainable land use and water resources through improved land tenure, management, development and conservation. Meeting the demand for agricultural products while reducing the demand for and protecting quality of land and water quantity and quality is a major challenge in most regions.

The proportion of irrigated area as a fraction of the total arable land is low across the SADC region. Water and energy demand for agricultural is set to increase. Better methods of accounting for biophysical resources and their utilisation are required. However, the assessment is based on crude methodologies, which are badly in need of revision. Biophysical resources that need to be assessed include determination of irrigation potential vs arable land, suitability of agricultural performance indicators (water use efficiency, water productivity), and water use by various land uses (such as forestry, biofuel feedstock).

Access to energy is essential for the reduction of poverty and promotion of economic growth. Agricultural improvement and expansion of municipal water systems all require access to abundant, reliable, and affordable sources of energy. The applications of renewable energy technology has the potential to alleviate many of the problems that face Africans every day, especially if done so in a sustainable manner that prioritises human rights. However, the use of renewable energy for irrigation purposes is still very low across Eastern and Southern Africa.

The papers under this theme should focus on the interaction between land, water and energy as an important nexus that needs to be clearly understood, particularly the use of solar energy, rain-fed vs irrigated production and other best practices to reduce pressure on the strained water resources systems. How can water, land and energy be managed in an integrated manner in the face of increased water scarcity, dominance of water use for agriculture, and need for energy (including renewable energy) to treat and pump water?

Changing hydro-climatic regimes and planning tools for climate resilient pathways

Climate change is expected to influence the available water resources in river basins across the Eastern and Southern African regions. Changes in climatic variables, especially precipitation and temperature, affect hydrologic processes, such as evapotranspiration, runoff generation and groundwater recharge. This also affects water demand patterns and biophysical processes in wetlands. Due to the diversity of the national and transboundary catchments throughout the Eastern and Southern African regions, the effects of climate change are not uniform and local impacts are poorly understood. The regions already experience large rainfall variability on both intra and inter-annual timescales. Long-term drought and famine events, which have struck these two regions within the last 30 years, illustrate the impact of such variability on water resources. However, it is equally important that we better understand increased variability in the form of dry spells and high intensity rainfall events affecting agricultural production.

Given the current hydro-climatic changes taking place, there is need for efficient and effective water management based on accurate assessment of the available water resources. However, spatial and temporal distribution of hydrometric and meteorological stations across Africa is declining.  Limited hydrological data availability coupled with complex hydrologic and hydrogeological systems has made prediction, planning and management of surface and groundwater resources under changing conditions a challenge. The theme focuses on how best to utilise existing data, and how newer technologies, such as remote sensing, local knowledge systems and big data can improve assessment of both surface and groundwater including transboundary aquifers.

The papers in this sub-theme therefore should focus on addressing issues on enhancing efficient and effective assessment (including real time monitoring against a backdrop of uncertainties in a changing climate and socio-economic conditions), planning and management of surface and groundwater resources and the impact of urbanisation on water resources using appropriate models. Such models should take into consideration the water cycle's response to climate change. Studies which interrogate how countries in the Southern and Eastern Africa can collect, manage and share data on surface and groundwater resources are also welcome. 

Water, Ecosystems and the Environment

Ecosystems (e.g. forests, wetlands and grasslands) and the environment are critical components of the global water cycle. All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems and the broader environment and recognising the water cycle as a biophysical process is essential to achieving sustainable water management. Biodiversity within inland water ecosystems is both highly diverse and of great regional importance to livelihoods and economies. However, development activities are not always cognisant with the conservation of this diversity and it is poorly represented within the development planning process.

All countries in Eastern and Southern Africa are now increasingly realise that greater investments are needed to protect aquatic ecosystems and the environment from the negative impact of human developments. On the other hand, implementation of the polluter pays principle is either very slow or non-existent. Integration of ecosystem needs into water management practices empowers decision makers to engage major productive water users with the clear end goal of sustainability. Addressing the challenge of striking the right balance between allocating water for direct human use (agriculture, power generation, domestic purposes and industry) and indirect use (sustenance of ecosystem goods and services) in view of global challenges such as urbanisation and climate change become less subjective. Improved understanding of the linkages between the various water sources and uses, which implies recognising the existence of, not just hydrological boundaries, but ecosystems boundaries both at the national and transboundary levels is critical.

The papers in this sub-theme should address new and innovative methodologies for determining environmental water requirements, recent advances and best practices in environmental impact assessment, valuation of ecosystems services and goods, determining ecosystems boundaries, inclusion of ecosystem goods and services in water resources development, pollution prevention and treatment and river basin management, wise use of water-linked ecosystems and people's livelihoods, as well as studies of water quality in the IWRM framework.

Water security for economic development, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods

Water security underpins the achievement of development agendas across many sectors such as health, energy, agriculture, environment, mining, and other industries. It drives economic growth and ensure local, national, regional and continental stability and integration. On the other hand, water insecurity leads to a sharp decline to gross domestic product (GDP). It is estimated that, due to water insecurity, the GDP of a number of countries will decline by as much as 6 percent over the next 30 years. With emerging economies and rising consumerism, nations will need more water to sustain improved quality of life for their citizens. As a result, competition for water will continue to grow and there will be increasing battles between uses for agricultural production, domestic consumption, the environment and industry and energy creation.

From its collection, through various uses, to its ultimate return to the natural environment, water is a key factor in the development of job opportunities either directly related to its management (supply, infrastructure, wastewater treatment, etc.) or in economic sectors that are heavily water-dependent such as agriculture, fishing, power, industry and health. Estimates suggest that 95% of jobs in the agriculture sector, 30% of jobs in the industry sector, and 10% of jobs in the services sector are heavily dependent on water. Additionally, an estimated 5% of jobs in the agriculture sector, 60% of jobs in the industry sector and 30% of jobs in the services sector are moderately dependent on water (UN Water). Furthermore, good access to drinking water and sanitation promotes a healthy workforce, which constitutes an essential factor for sustained economic growth. Since water is a key driver for the economy, its availability ensures that key industries function and that jobs for variety of positions are available.

Sustainable water management, water infrastructure and access to a safe, reliable and affordable supply of water and adequate sanitation services improve living standards, expand local economies, and lead to the creation of more decent jobs and greater social inclusion. Sustainable water management is also an essential driver of green growth and sustainable development.

The quantity and quality of water has the potential to change workers' lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies. Water is at the core of sustainable development. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty eradication, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Having access to water for productive uses including agriculture is critical to realise livelihood opportunities, generate income and contribute to economic productivity.

The theme calls for abstracts which analyse the current state of water security in Eastern and Southern Africa, factors affecting water security, the extent to which water security is enhancing economic development, job creation and livelihoods.


Authors are invited to submit their abstracts for presentation at the symposium for oral, poster or special session presentations. Abstracts should be:

  • A maximum of 350 words (Do not exceed the number of words as the system will not accept more than 350 words).
  • The format for all text should be font size 12, Times New Roman and single-spaced.
  • The title should be no more than 16 words in title case.
  • Author's names should be written in such a way that the initials appear first followed by the last name.
  • The authors names should indicate one corresponding author* (with an asterisk) and the email of the corresponding author.
  • The affiliations of authors should be shown through letter superscripts (such as a, b, c).
  • Five keywords should be included in alphabetical order.
  • The abstract should include a clear statement of the theoretical issue to be addressed, the research methodology to be presented, and a concise summary of the findings and conclusion.
  • Work must be unpublished at time of presentation.
  • Maximum of 3 submissions per author, either as single author or joint co-author are allowed