School of Engineering


UKZN Driving Water Institute’s New Modelling and Data Division

Researchers in UKZN’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Research & Development (WASH R&D) Centre have spearheaded the establishment of the collaborative Modelling and Data (MaD) Division of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA).

Focused on developing data structures and mathematical models that provide better understanding of complex processes and systems associated with the water and sanitation sector, the formation of the Division was driven by a committee of research colleagues from UKZN, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and eThekwini Water and Sanitation. The UKZN representatives were WASH R&D’s Mr Chris Brouckaert and Ms Sifiso Dhlamini, who now serve on the MaD committee as lead and coordinator, respectively.

The Division is supported by a consortium of members from universities, municipalities, research organisations and the private sector.

Over several decades, UKZN and UCT in particular have made significant contributions to the development of scientifically robust, internationally-recognised mathematical models that could advance water and sanitation systems for smart cities.

‘We observed that [modelling] was a significant part of the missing link required to bridge the gap between our contributions as academics and the implementations in design and system operations,’ said UCT’s Dr David Ikumi.

With demands on scarce water resources growing, the Division promotes cohesive and sustainable management of water and sanitation systems through integrated data management for the protection of human and environmental health. This is increasingly essential in a data-intensive sector that needs to plan for long-term environmental and socio-economic sustainability.

Predictive mathematical models could aid the development of these integrated practices, as well as present an opportunity for efficient, innovative and sustainable digital solutions to water-related issues.

At the Division’s launch in May, Brouckaert outlined its objectives to an audience that included postgraduate students, research scholars and staff from academia and research organisations, water treatment and associated industry professionals, and decision makers in municipalities across South Africa. The launch and the Division’s current activities are supported via funded projects from the Water Research Commission, National Research Foundation, Flemish Interuniversity Council – University Development Cooperation, and the Danish International Development Agency.

The consortium’s activities and collaborations will support informed decision-making in the water and sanitation sector, particularly through intelligent water technologies and products for improved, sophisticated systems and human resource potential, increasing awareness of improvements that could be made to current systems, and policies that promote sustainability.

The Division is stimulating transfer of knowledge between academia, industry, the authorities, and decision makers. It supports transitioning from wastewater treatment to resource recovery in the African context, and plans to coordinate education and training in modelling and data analytics.

Researchers hope to demystify modelling and data science, improve access to tools, data and expertise, and raise the profile of modelling and data science practitioners. This interdisciplinary platform will showcase outputs, establish a network of data sources, and provide information and support to end users while advancing research and development.

The Division is growing a network of laboratories related to data acquisition and analysis, and is engaging with stakeholders to identify critical water analysis needs. Its activities centre around the establishment of a virtual water and sanitation hub, and the creation of user-friendly protocols for data collection, storage and publication.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Shutterstock