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By Julia Deng

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Protecting water resources by empowering young citizens

Friday, 8 October, marked Simondium Primary and Bridge House Schools’ celebration of World Water Monitoring Day, a global educational outreach program that aims to build public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources by empowering citizens to carry out basic monitoring of local water sources.

Though World Water Monitoring Day was established only recently, over 120,000 people in 81 countries participated in the initiative last year, monitoring local waterways with test kits and sharing the results with other participants online. Founding partners WEF (Water Environment Federation) and IWA (International Water Association) plan to expand participation to one million people in 100 countries within the next two years.

Hosting the event in Franschoek, was bioprocess engineer Bernelle Verster – founder of industrial biotech company Merah Mas – accompanied by a team of Water Institute of South Africa (WISA) members and students representing every university of the Western Cape – UCT, CPUT, UWC and SUN – all scientists specializing in different facets of water conservation. Verster, the wastewater treatment expert of the group and a PhD student at UCT, led the team with a vigour that belied the chilly morning.

“I want this to be a fun experience for them,” Verster explained, while enthusiastically pulling her shoes off, marching through the mud with bins of equipment and encouraging the uniform-clad Grade 6 pupils to follow suit.

“Researchers understand that you have to share your time and work with other generations,” said Verster as she explained the importance of presenting her own work in wastewater treatment to students significantly younger than her university peers.

“They’re getting to go out and play in the water instead of sitting in a classroom with science books. This is really the best way for children to learn. And by making this lesson a fun activity, hopefully they’ll bring the excitement home and talk to their parents about what they learned. Bridging the generational gap in environmental awareness is a major step in the right direction.”

With official WWMD test kits, small groups of students and supervisors collected samples of stream water to check for quality parameters. Using a range of different techniques and equipment, the basics of acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen content were measured, in addition to water temperature and general clarity. Results were then shared with other participants around the globe directly through the WWMD website.

However, Verster admits that school visits and field trips are often ineffective when awareness is not actively reinforced

“Sometimes these functions catch kids, and then lose them. What we’re going to try next year is working with lesson plans so we’re not burdening teachers or putting our agenda over and above their curriculum.”

The ambitiousness of this plan isn’t lost on Verster, who explains with a wry smile that she has “a lot of contacts in the industry.”

“Most of my friends are friends with people who are the ones re-writing South African lesson plans. I’m the crazy little person right now, but they are very kind to me. This can happen. People need to understand that water isn’t just another renewable resource, and educating students in schools is the first step.”

For more information or to become an active water citizen, go to www.worldwatermonitoringday.org and www.merahmas.co.za

This event was funded by the Water Institute of South Africa (WISA), and supported by WISA members and companies who contributed both time and resources.

Photographers: Jacques Marais and Julia Deng

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2 User

  1. Dr Ricka Kfir, at the Excellence in Water Research Awards Evening held at the CSIR on 20 October 2010, commented that ‘Oil can be replaced by other energy sources – there is no replacement for clean drinking water’.

  2. Lanette says:

    Articles like these put the consumer in the driver seat-very imptronat.

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