TUT Masters student speaks on SA’s water crisis

28 March 2022

Reflecting on the recent South African Water Week in an article, Pinky Mokwena, Masters’ student in Environmental Science at the Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) Faculty of Science as well as CEO and Founder of Metsi a Teng (Pty) Ltd, highlights the urgent need to preserve our precious water resources. 

Pinky Mokwena, Masters’ student in Environmental Science.

“I am a passionate Environmental Scientist and an advocate for Sustainable Water Management. I have won several awards, including the Famelab South Africa (2020), Inter-University Innovation Challenge (2020), Open Innovation Challenge (2021) and the prestigious First Blue Ocean Award for my innovative solution on water treatment,” Pinky explains.

In the article she writes: “I wish to pen down my thoughts on the protection and maintenance of our water quality and the fact that it is a monumental responsibility needing urgent attention. However, it cannot be delegated to only a few individuals or organisations in a nation.

The quality of water has been identified as a significant global priority, primarily in developing countries such as South Africa. Not only does good quality water influence the health of humans and their industrial systems, but also the social and economic advancement of such societies.

This priority has shifted through seasons and generations, as industrial revolutions came and went, leaving with them remnants of how all systems are tied to one another – interconnected in various ways. 

Access to quality drinking water has become more of an exclusive right across communities country-wide, especially as economic earnings have also begun to determine not only the quantities available, but also the value of this natural resource. It is no secret that water stress is a big challenge in many South African provinces, therefore it begs the question of urgency on how this challenge can be bridged and what that might look like at a practical level.

The interconnectedness of all ecosystems, through macro or nuanced ways, suggests that there could exist a causality and effect within these systems. However, the complexity of any one system makes it difficult to point fingers at which specific route should be interrogated. And so, sadly, the ‘no single cause clause renders the inquiry incapable of exacting a single solution’. Each area is said to be subject to water issues, caused to different degrees by growing demand (as a consequence of the developing nature of the country), excessive use (due to high demand by each community or combined), water pollution (to a great extent due to urbanisation, industrialisation and other forms of advancement), as well as poor practices on account of inadequate infrastructure and theft (among other issues).

For the sake of narrowing this article down to a single cause and some practical solutions that are relevant to it, we will focus mainly on water pollution and the chemistry that renders our water safe for use and consumption, since that is a subject I am most well-versed in. 

Noted technological solutions to water quality augmentations, such as wastewater reuse and desalination – popular treatment options - only ameliorate the problem of poor water quality to an extent. As a result, the problem of water quality, specifically the lack of safe drinking water, even in countries where water is abundant, has become the most serious challenge of our time. Numerous variables exist that compromise the quality of potable water and chemicals, particularly organic chemicals, have contributed significantly to this phenomenon. Their persistence and need for sophisticated treatment protocols have earned them a position in the range of issues of the water treatment industry globally. The presence of organic pollutants in water is an issue of paramount alarm for the industry, primarily because of the acute toxicities, persistency and carcinogenicity of some organic pollutants.

Reports have shown how some organic chemicals produced to assist in various industrial applications have released by-products that have extensive adverse environmental impacts, and so once again, the interconnected nature of our systems proves to require more attention than is often offered. 

While scientists and water chemists figure out the nitty-gritties of the chemistry and science of being good national water stewards, individuals and households also have a responsibility to engage in good water management practices – those age old practices that often come across as archaic or completely disconnected from our “American dream” lifestyles that frequently encourage over-spending, over-wasting and complete apathy that is stripping the responsibility and collective collaboration that is needed to advance this course.”

Pinky concludes her article with a few ideas for day-to-day modifications to water use habits (but are not limited to):

  • Reducing the number of times one flushes their toilet (unnecessary flushing of the toilet can waste up to 1,000 litres of water per year).
  • Using foaming soap to wash hands as this allows users to only use water for rinsing instead of for soaping up and rinsing.
  • Taking shorter showers.
  • Using a bucket to collect water while waiting for the shower to get hot.
  • Not washing clothes unnecessarily. Wash clothes to remove stains, not wrinkles.
  • Turning the tap off when brushing your teeth. Wetting one’s brush and using a glass for rinsing.
  • Identifying and addressing water leaks with local municipality.
  • Washing fruit or vegetables in a bowl as opposed to keeping the water running.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 4711  Email: tshisikhawerpt@tut.ac.za