Although there has been some progress towards Goal 6 worldwide, two billion people still lack access to safe drinking water and 3.6 billion lack safely managed sanitation services, particularly in the Global South. It is a problem that is projected to increase due to climate change and rapid urbanisation. South Africa is predicted to be one of 10 water-scarce countries in Africa by 2025, which adds to the challenge of access to safe water.
To address, understand and engage with complex problems related to water, UCT’s transdisciplinary research institute, Future Water (FW), brings together researchers from six faculties and 10 departments. FW considers water as a basic right, an enabler for the achievement of other SDGs and a catalyst for engagement.
‘Pathways to water resilient South African cities’ is a FW project that aims to assess and encourage integration of decentralised nature-based solutions into the urban water cycle. This will support and accelerate achieving water resilience in South African cities, through the retrofitting of existing stormwater detention ponds into productive, multifunctional blue–green infrastructures that can contribute to city water supply.
‘The water hub’, another current FW project, is an urban living lab that uses nature-based processes to treat contaminated surface water and reuse it to safely irrigate vegetables, breed fish and use hydroponics to grow riverine vegetation for restoring degraded river systems. The researchers are finding ways to use polluted water – ordinarily treated as waste – to support urban food security and decrease the impact on health and the environment.
Mining, particularly in developing, resource-rich countries, is a significant contributor to polluted water. UCT’s Crystallisation and Precipitation Unit (CPU) is pioneering innovative research into eutectic freeze crystallisation, whereby a briny solution is cooled to its eutectic temperature, which causes the water in the mixture to crystallise as ice, which floats, and the salts to crystallise out as solids, which sink.