The Neglected Expertise of Local Groundwater Professionals in South Africa

The Neglected Expertise of Local Groundwater Professionals in South Africa

20 Jun 2024
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 "Capacity development in groundwater governance emerges as a crucial necessity for decision-makers and stakeholders to grasp the essence of sustainable management practices."

- OPINION - 
Yazeed van Wyk and Brian Delcarme

 

The Neglected Expertise of Local Groundwater Professionals in South Africa


As June 16 marks Youth Day in South Africa, it serves as a poignant reminder of the need to empower and develop the younger generation, including aspiring groundwater professionals.


Data released by Statistics South Africa indicates a 45,5% unemployment rate among young individuals (aged 15-34 years), in contrast to the national average of 32,9% in the first quarter of 2024. Education, training and development plays a crucial role in equipping young people with the skills and competencies necessary to succeed in the workforce. It is also stated that according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the 1st Quarter of 2024, only 9,8% of the employed youth were graduates.

YouthUnemployment
Image Credits : SABC-News-Unemployment-1

Groundwater is critically important in South Africa, especially as a strategic water resource that can be utilised during times of drought and to supplement diminishing surface water supplies. Despite its significance, municipalities often struggle to employ a skilled workforce who can manage and develop this resource sustainably. Addressing this gap is essential for the effective stewardship of groundwater resources.


Local government are a major player in sustainable groundwater resource utilisation and protection. Capacity-building for informed decision-making are necessary next steps towards deeper institutionalisation and operationalisation. Therefore, capacity building initiatives needs to be targeted at municipalities by the water sector in cooperation with other interested stakeholders.
 

Currently, municipalities do not have the necessary capacity or the cooperative governance mechanisms in place to implement what is laid out in the National Groundwater Strategy and the Urban Groundwater Development and Management framework and tactical plan. Addressing multifaceted groundwater challenges requires building the capabilities of individuals and institutions not only to measure, monitor, and understand but also to ensure the sustainable and efficient functioning of groundwater systems.


Groundwater, comprising 97% of the world's available freshwater, stands as a cornerstone in sustaining livelihoods, propelling socio-economic development, and nurturing ecosystems.
The management of local groundwater resources has not yet taken place and groundwater is lagging far behind surface water resources. Despite its vital importance, there exists a notable absence of specialised vocational training courses focused on groundwater management, specifically tailored to meet the needs of local governments.
This glaring skills gap presents a substantial barrier to sustainable development, posing challenges to ensure long-term water security and effective resource management. To redress this issue, the imperative for developing accredited groundwater qualifications becomes evident. Across municipalities in South Africa, a deficiency in technical capacity prevails, inhibiting the responsible management of groundwater resources. Addressing this deficiency through specialised vocational training courses designed to cater to local government needs is pivotal, aiming to furnish municipalities with the indispensable expertise required to manage groundwater effectively.


Groundwater, possessing lower susceptibility to evaporation compared to surface water, emerges as a resilient resource in combating the impacts of climate change. Its indispensable role in meeting water demands for numerous cities, communities, and agricultural endeavours emphasises its critical importance. As the chasm between water demand and supply widens, the imperative for sustainable groundwater management grows more pronounced. Enhanced groundwater management practices, coupled with exploration into deeper groundwater potential and capacity building of both individuals and institutions, represent essential strides towards ensuring the optimal functioning of groundwater systems.


The development of groundwater qualifications yields benefits not solely confined to the water sector but extending to society and the economy at large. Competent groundwater professionals are adept at managing groundwater resources efficiently, thereby fostering cost savings, augmenting agricultural productivity, and catalysing economic growth. Moreover, sustainable groundwater management serves as an essential requirement for environmental stability, job creation, and resilience against the impacts of climate change. Recognising groundwater as a strategic resource is crucial for achieving water security, alleviating poverty, and promoting equitable growth. Capacity development in groundwater governance emerges as a crucial necessity for decision-makers and stakeholders to grasp the essence of sustainable management practices. Transparent policies, supported by robust regulations and institutions overseeing groundwater use and protection, are essential ingredients for ensuring equitable distribution, adequate resourcing, and effective enforcement of regulations.

By equipping individuals and institutions with the necessary knowledge and skills, this initiative aims to proficiently navigate the complex landscape of groundwater governance, protection, monitoring, and management.
Developing groundwater qualifications must have value/currency to ensure uptake. The value and relevance of qualifications are measured by the extent to which they address the skill needs of industry and provide successful pathways to employment or to further study.

The value and relevance of water-related occupational qualifications to the South African water sector, municipalities, and industries remain difficult to quantify due to their minimal uptake since QCTO and SAQA registration. Many of these qualifications have even reached their end-date without sufficient adoption, necessitating extensions or removals.
The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) registered water related occupational qualifications were available for uptake since their registration but the implementation and roll out of these occupational qualifications have not taken traction.


Skills development and training providers have not fully exploited the opportunities and potential of the QCTO water related occupational qualifications to address economic, developmental and societal challenges. The energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA) has a duty and responsibility towards the delivery of QCTO and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) registered (water related) occupational qualifications. The EWSETA also need to ensure the uptake of these qualifications by assisting the water sector and related industries with the delivery of learning in order to supply qualified practitioners for the workplace, absorb unemployed youth and school leavers in the job market.


In conclusion, the development of accredited groundwater qualifications tailored for local government marks a significant milestone in bridging the critical skills gap inherent in groundwater management:

  • Empowering municipalities with the necessary expertise is essential not only for sustainable resource management but also as a catalyst for economic growth, societal well-being, and environmental balance.

  • Recognising the pivotal role of groundwater in ensuring water security and fostering sustainable development, investing in capacity-building initiatives becomes a critical imperative. Such investments pave the way towards securing a resilient and equitable water future for all stakeholders.

  • By enhancing the knowledge and skills of municipal personnel, these efforts will enable more effective groundwater governance, protection, monitoring, and management. This approach ensures that groundwater resources are utilised efficiently and sustainably, contributing to long-term economic stability, improved quality of life for communities, and the preservation of natural ecosystems.

Ultimately, building capacity at the municipal level is a foundational step in creating a future where water resources are managed wisely and equitably, benefiting present and future generations.


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