Fifth (and last) webinar – African case studies

Last week we had our fifth and last webinar on African Case Studies. How did it go? What are our thoughts on the series of webinars? Read all below.

The context

At the end of 2019 NWO-WOTRO launched a call with a specific focus on enhancing the use and translation of UDW research results and as I mentioned before (here and here), in the context of this call, AQUASHARE was awarded an advocacy and capacity building project building with the main objective to showcase the role that Integrated urban water management approaches can play in the context of an Urbanizing Delta, using Maputo as case-study, and what are the factors that limit the adoption of these approaches in Mozambique.

Initially – in the first proposal to NWO – we had planned a series of regional seminars and conferences and study-trips to interesting locations across Maputo. These events would be complemented with base- and end-line surveys – to gauge the impact of the seminars – and a series of interviews to key actors of the water and sanitation sector in Mozambique. The main question would be understanding how can the knowledge be shared during the events be translated into the context of Maputo and what’s the road ahead to do so? In other words: is the concept of Integrated Urban Water Management interesting from the Mozambican context and, if yes, what could be a possible roadmap for its implementation?

By the way, according to The Global Water Partnership IUWM is:

Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) calls for the alignment of urban development and basin management to achieve sustainable economic, social, and environmental goals. It brings together water supply, sanitation, storm- and waste-water management and integrates these with land use planning and economic development. An IUWM approach integrates planning for the water sector with other urban sectors, such as land, housing, energy, and transport to avoid fragmentation and duplication in policy- and decision-making. Cross-sector relationships are strengthened through a common working culture, collective goals and benefits are better articulated, and differences in power and resources can be negotiated. It includes the urban informal sector and marginalised communities.

Then came along the Covid-19 pandemic. From the start of the pandemic we realized that face-to-face events, bringing many people together seemed hard to organize; however, with time came the realization that this would not be solely hard but too risky. This meant that we had to change our approach and replace all face-to-face events with webinars with similar objectives. All other project activities remaining unchanged. In this piece I will be focusing solely on the webinars and the lessons learned from these activities, I will cover the other project activities in future posts.

The webinars

Since September 2020 and until February 2021 we organized a total of five webinars:

  • Introduction and general concepts of IUWM (here and here). This webinar included presentations by Manuel Alvarinho (AQUASHARE, Mozambique), Luuk Rietved and André Arsénio covering the main aspects of IUWM, the urban water cycle and the role that these solutions can play in the context of urbanizing Maputo. You can watch this webinar on YouTube.
  • Technical aspects of water reclamation (here). This webinar included presentations from Celma Niquice, Noor Gulamussen and Jules van Lier where the researchers presented their projects on water reclamation in the city of Maputo and across Africa. While Jules and Celma focused on water reclamation for irrigation, Noor presented her work on water reclamation for industries. You can watch this webinar on YouTube.
  • Social aspects of water reclamation (here). This webinar was led by Adriano Biza and Natalia Tejada and included the participation of Barbara van Koppen (IWMI, South Africa). This webinar delved into the regulatory and policy measures needed to implement IUWM approaches in Mozambique with a focus on the Infulene in order to depict the inter-connection between water supply, sanitation and food product in the city. You can watch this webinar on YouTube.
  • Managed aquifer recharge (MAR), in particular technical and economic aspects. This webinar included the participation of Dinis Juízo (Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique), João Paulo Lobo Ferreira (LNEC, Portugal) and Melchior Polwijk (Dunea Duin & Water, The Netherlands). The main focus was presenting MAR as a solution related to rainwater harvesting, which is frequently presented, by the local water sector, as an interesting solution for the long term. You can watch this webinar on YouTube.
  • Case-studies covering water reclamation projects in Africa. This webinar included three presenters and will be discussed in detail below.

Finally, all webinars were hosted on Zoom with free access for any participant around the world. The events were widely disseminated via LinkedIn, Whatsapp and personal mailing lists. As indicated above, recordings of all events were uploaded to our YouTube channel.

The final flyer with all webinars.

African Case-studies

This is what I wrote on LinkedIn about our last webinar:

We all know that most of city dwellers across #Africa don’t have access to safe and affordable sanitation and that African cities are lagging behind in the #SDGs; but did you know that Windhoek has a water reclamation project for human consumption since the 1970s? Or that a major industrial complex South of Durban has been using treated wastewater as its main water source for almost two decades? Next week, for our last #webinar, we will turn the spotlight on these examples – and then some more – in order to finish our series of webinars on a positive note. Throughout the world water reclamation will play a major role in the coming decades by reducing the pressure on the available freshwater sources and by being a driving force for better and more inclusive sanitation services. Do you want to know how this can be done?

And this was exactly the main point with this last webinar: we all know the sad and true stories about Africa lagging behind in the provision of water and sanitation services for its urban dwellers across most of the Continent. However, there are also interesting stories to be told about the continent with some cities in Africa, for example Windhoek, being at the forefront of water reclamation projects for more than fifty years. All in all our main objective was to finish the webinars on a positive note: if water reclamation can be a solution and “how” to do it can be learned from local peers – in fact in can be argued that a successful solution, be it technological, social or regulatory, from Durban is more relevant for the context of Maputo than one from Northern Europe – then that should be way forward.

Final version of the flyer produced to advertise the webinars.

The experience of Windhoek, Namibia

Direct potable reuse compared to the first heart transplant. One could argue that if anything this is an understatement.

Our first presenter was Pierre van Rensburg from the Department of Urban and Transport Planning of the City of Windhoek. I would argue that this was the highlight of all our webinars. Pierre told a very compelling story about the Windhoek experience with Direct Potable Reuse (DPR), and its implementation vis-a-vis dam development and pumping water from far, an approach that entails limitations and that we have discussed in the context of Maputo. The technical aspects of the infrastructure built and updated in Windhoek are interesting, but I definitely recommend you to (re-)watch Pierre’s presentation and pay attention to the introductory sections on why DPR was favored instead of dam development and on Social acceptance. Pierre also underlined that despite the original approach to stakeholder involvement social acceptance is a continuous effort that requires good communication.

In Windhoek, the more people know about DPR the less safer they feel.

The experience of Durban, South Africa

Without water reuse reuse total demand cannot be covered in Durban.

For the second presentation we crossed the continent with a presentation from Sydney Masha of the eThekwini Municipality. Durban has been on the forefront of innovation and, unsurprisingly, the city was awarded the 2014 Stockholm Industry Water Award for being the “Most progressive water utility in Africa”:

The combined result is one of the most progressive utilities in the world. The open approach to experimenting and piloting new solutions across both technical and social aspects of service delivery has made eThekwini a forerunner in the world of utility-run services. One partner comments that “leaders at eThekwini have already been betting on new and risky approaches to test innovation that will ultimately have a long term benefit for the population, most municipalities refrain from exploring ideas out of the box, focusing on business as usual.”

As for the case of Windhoek, water scarcity was a main driving force for the implementation of water reuse in Durban. One of the examples introduced by Sydney included the installation used to treat 47.5 ML per day of municipal wastewater to a near potable standard for direct reuse in industrial processes., feeding both SAPREF’s refinery and Mondi’s paper mill in South Durban.

Sydney introduced us to the Remix water project of Durban.

The experience of Northern Africa

The last presented was Faycel Chenini of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Faycel argued that despite the great relevance that water reuse can play in the context of Northern Africa – a region affected by absolute water scarcity – there are, however, several major challenges:

  1. Economic and Investment aspects
  2. Political aspects
  3. Legislation aspects
  4. Institutional aspects
  5. Environmental aspects
  6. Technical aspects
  7. Social aspects

Particularly challenge number 4, Institutional aspects, is particularly relevant and ubiquituous and this is also is also the case in Mozambique and Maputo:

There is a multiplicity of ministries, administrations and agencies (water, agriculture, energy, environment, municipal affairs, health) involved in the use of NCWR sometimes with contradictory objectives and overlapping responsibilities and often with communication lack.

There is great potential for water reuse projects across Northern Africa.

Finally, as for all the other webinars, if you missed this one, you can watch it now:
YouTube Preview Image
You can also download the presentation file here.

Conclusions and way forward

I personally had experience with online and blended learning approaches for project ZAMADZI and I have followed several online courses at Coursera. However, organizing webinars was something completely different and new and I certainly learned a few things in the process.

  1. Having a story to tell is very important. A series of webinars should tell a story it’s up to the organizers to understand which story they want to tell and who are the right people to tell that story.
  2. Inviting people with different views enriches the experience. As I just mentioned, telling a story is fundamental but is there just one side of the story, i.e. your side? Probably not. Don’t be afraid of engaging people that have views completely different from yours – the end product will be much more interesting, and the Q&A sessions much more livelier. This is also a fundamental approach to have as many attendants as possible.
  3. Advertising is key. It’s very important to produced appealing and engaging flyers so that people feel interested. We did our best – what do you think?
  4. Using a stable and user-friendly platform, such as Zoom, is fundamental. Skype is OK to call my mother but it simply cannot handle more than five participants, particularly if internet connections are unstable; and, maybe my computer is too old, but other platforms, e.g. MS Teams, seem to be too error-prone.
  5. Planning ahead is fundamental. This is obvious and brings together all other previous points but you should not expect to be able to organize a series of webinars in a couple of weeks: coming up with a story, identifying speakers and having them on board takes months. I can tell you that these webinars took more than one year to be designed and delivered.
  6. At this moment there’s too much offer. With the pandemic in full swing there are webinars and online events everywhere, and people are invited for conference calls all the time. This means that there’s too much offer and, I believe, people are getting tired of this, which was very obvious in our webinars with attendance decreasing in each event: from roughly 80 in the first to 5 in the last. Of course organizing a webinar cannot be an end in itself – if nobody watches it did it really happen? I would answer that, even if you upload it to YouTube, the answer is “probably not”.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge all the presented who invested their own time to share their knowledge with us. I certainly learned a lot!

And that’s it, the flyer for our last webinar. All produced in house – is it any good?