Water Security Network

Improving Water Quality Security


uMngeni Vlei

A major water challenge in southern Africa and elsewhere in the developing world is the deterioration of water quality. However, understanding of the processes that lead to improvements in or deterioration of water quality is limited.  In improving efforts to secure water quality in southern Africa, much more thoughtful consideration will have to be directed at enabling people to perform better as individuals and as institutions. We need to see a shift toward a better balance between technical approaches and social approaches.

Water security is increasingly becoming a concept of great importance for dealing with a wide range of water quality related problems. It is now generally acknowledged that improving water quality requires an emphasis on securing the quality and health of water systems. For example, many recent studies, meetings, workshops and conferences in southern Africa have discussed the necessity of a water security-oriented approach to water quality management. These activities are an indication that a water security approach is replacing the perception that water quality management can be treated as discrete entities in isolation from the rest of the contextualizing social system. It is now widely accepted that a water security approach will help in providing a more complete understanding of the human dynamics that underlie water quality management, and thereby provide the basis for solving many of the water quality challenges.

However, while there is a growing appreciation of the importance of water security, the methods and tools for a water security approach to water quality management are poorly developed. Although a lot has been done in developing a case for water security, there has not been much effort made in operationalizing and bringing the concept into reality in the context of water quality. This has resulted in a situation where the concept has been at times viewed necessarily as an abstract and buzzword. Partly, this is because the importance of a social science of water quality management has not generally been embraced. The implementation of successful water quality security systems requires focused human interventions underpinned by explicit methods and tools.

Research Programme

Kafue River Basin, Zambia

This research seeks to advance a paradigm that underscores the basic ingredients for pursuing water quality management in such a manner. The research will address different aspects of the water security domain of water quality that also raise fundamental questions about human behaviour and the roles of government and civil society. The general objective is to develop and test simplified methods and tools for understanding and improving water quality security in southern Africa. The basic assumption behind the research is that the theme of water quality security is necessary but requires fundamentally different methods and tools; not mere tinkering with traditional models and practices. The essential feature of the research will be to mobilize a wider range of considerations and sources of information than those currently being used in various discourses. The intention is to examine how the theme of water quality security in southern Africa can be made more explicit and improved by learning from a variety of frameworks and their dynamics. The key outputs of this research will include highly sought postgraduates; leading-edge research products; and technology transfers. Specific objectives include:

  • To develop and test fundamental international emerging social-ecological concepts and approaches to water quality security and adapt them to the southern African context;
  • To integrate insights gained in three national priority case study contexts into a feasible principle-based philosophy and strategy for water quality security in southern Africa;
  • To lay the foundation of a new paradigm for effective water resources management that could provide the basis of the revision of national water policies in southern Africa; and
  • To provide for PhD and Masters level studies as an appropriate aspect of this overall work package.
Water Security Network