We all know the country is facing huge challenges when it comes to water and sanitation, from the drought and lack of maintenance in some areas, to lack of access in others. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has launched a competition for high school students to get involved in finding innovative solutions, through the South African Youth Water Prize. DANA DA SILVA found out more.
The DWS, in collaboration with the Department of Education, held a competition called the South African Youth Water Prize on the 19th of April in Mpumalanga, where high school students got the chance to showcase their solutions to water challenges in the province.
The competition is taking place in each province, with provincial winners getting a chance to represent their province in the national competition for the ultimate prize, which is a fully paid trip (with the minister) to represent the country at the Stockholm Youth Water Prize.
So are kids actually interested in competition based on water and sanitation? Well Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the DWS, thinks so. â€œStudents are interested because opportunities are available in the water and sanitation sector. Opportunities, careers and otherwise, they may have not been aware of before they got involved,â€ he says.
Ratau hopes that more and more youngsters will be interested in the water and sanitation sector so they can enhance their own lives and enhance the sectorâ€™s skills base.
â€œAs we know, we need to continue to enhance our skills base particularly because in this industry most of the skills are in people that are in the late stages of their lives and then we lose them either to the private sector or even to retirement,â€ he says.
Ratau believes that the competition is about sharing knowledge. â€œWe just need to continue encouraging our youngsters to also encourage their schools and teachers to look at this issue and the competition when it is at provincial level so that they can be able to come up [with] and get new ideas,â€ he says.
Some of the issues brought up during the competition included access to water, water quality and delivery. The students also proposed a variety of solutions to these problems. One was to use phones as a form of forewarning. â€œSo that in case there are leaks or in case there a pipe bursts somewhere, you know the system can be able to report it immediately without a person having to call. But rather use things like cell phones and other kinds of technology to be able to give us those early warnings,â€ saysÂ Ratau.
Ratau says that the biggest challenge the country is facing is being a water scarce country, which is made worse by the drought. Other issues are maintenance, operation and aging infrastructure.
â€œAnother thing, obviously, is the issue of access where we have not yet reached universal access. Whether it is for water supply or even for sanitation services, but itâ€™s work that we are continuing to do,â€ he adds.
It’s quite exciting that young minds are getting a chance to innovate and solve South Africa’s dire water and sanitation problems. It doesn’t matter whether they’re doing it to win the trip to Stockholm, or to secure their place as the next minister of water and sanitation. Just that these schoolkids are doing something to make South Africa a better place.