Our CEO, Professor Tony Wong, was a keynote speaker at the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) conference on 24–27 June in Cape Town.

Tony presented his keynote address ‘Integrated water management, water sensitive cities and liveability’ on the conference opening day. He looked at urban water challenges in Australia during the period of the Millennium Drought, and the floods that broke that drought, and how many Australian cities have prepared to strengthen the resilience of Australian cities to future climatic challenges. He reflected on some of the lessons from that period and developed some key messages that could guide development of urban water management strategies globally, and in this instance in South Africa. A key message was the role of enabling infrastructure, both hard and soft, that helps cities transition to more sustainable, resilient and liveable cities, drawing on Australian examples that can readily be translated to address South Africa's water challenges.

“Cape Town certainly dodged the drought bullet this time with dam levels now at over 60%. However, it is important to recognise the inherent city vulnerability to water scarcity—the recent crisis was brought about by just three consecutive years of low rainfall conditions,” said Tony.

“We really need to seize the opportunity to lay some firm foundations for developing a portfolio of alternative water sources. We also need to strengthen the already heightened level of community water literacy, to ensure an enduring social-technical resilience for future water challenges.”

WISA’s biennial conference took the theme ‘Breaking barriers, Connecting ideas’ for 2018. It sought to address past, existing and future water resource challenges by promoting collaboration, cooperation and integration within the water sector. This scope was particularly apt, as the southern African region battles an uncertain water supply.

WISA hoped the conference would promote, inspire and demonstrate the value of working beyond existing mandates and perceived restrictions. Tony and the other conference speakers delivered a vision of how this might occur.

Water Sensitive Urban Design and Water Sensitive Cities concepts are broadly embraced by academia and government in South Africa. Government-Academia partnerships, along similar lines to the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, have been established.

“I had the opportunity to visit the Water Hub research station at Stellenbosch and contribute to a working lunch, where we explored transition pathways for South African cities towards become more water sensitive. I am hopeful that the CRCWSC can maintain a collaborative connection with these groups. I am optimistic for the water sensitive future of South African cities,” said Tony.