Good science on water in Africa is constrained by infrastructure

02 September 2009

A major RSC-backed conference in Kenya on vital African water issues was an outstanding success.

The conference in Nairobi was staged by the Pan Africa Chemistry Network, established in 2007 by the RSC and partner company Syngenta, a world-leading plant science company

RSC chief executive Richard Pike attended the PACN event at the University of Nairobi to speak at the opening ceremony and at the vice-chancellor's welcome dinner, and he also chaired two of the conference sessions.

Dr Pike said today: "This was a great success for the RSC, and for our corporate sponsors Syngenta and the organisers, mainly from the University of Nairobi. Participants from all over Africa were very appreciative of the way in which the important subject of water was addressed. 

"I came away with the overriding view that there is good science going on in Africa, but it is constrained by many factors such as shortage of equipment and power cuts, which means that where there is equipment, long-duration analytical tests still have to be done elsewhere. 

"Furthermore, many African scientists are unable to engage effectively with their governments - they collect data, undertake analysis and make recommendations, but their governments have other priorities. There may be a role for RSC in supporting the continent's scientists to put over their points more effectively, and engage with the media.

"In terms of the state of many countries, poor or non-existent regulation, and lack of effective sanctions, means that many industrial concerns and farmers still pollute water courses with hydrocarbon products, heavy metals and other organic materials, and large and small communities add their biological waste. While the quantity of water available in Africa continues to be an issue, its quality is also increasingly being compromised."

"Good practices, and finances, brought by Syngenta and other leading organisations are so important in  addressing the vast problems facing the continent."

He added: "This is also why money alone will not address the water problems of Africa, and the conference emphasised implicitly the vital wider issues that we, as scientists, must embrace, not least communicating with decision-makers and following through to bring about change."

At the opening session Syngenta chief executive, Mike Mack, emphasized the important role of technology and agronomic knowledge for the development of productive agriculture in Africa. "We are committed to supporting the advancement of agriculture in Africa, as part of a virtuous cycle of sustainable agricultural and rural development with the aim of raising income for farmers, suppliers and the larger community."

Africa is acutely sensitive to water issues. Several countries have lost as much as 25% of their water resources from their lakes and reservoirs.  The state of the ground water is poorly mapped and the pattern of rainfall is changing due to climatic change. Above all, Africa has a rapidly growing population that needs water for food production and industrial uses.  

President Joaquim Chissano former President of Mozambique, and keynote speaker at the conference, said: "With the right policies and commitment, Africa has the chance to match, indeed better the Asian agricultural miracle of the last generation. Better because we can do so in an environmentally sustainable way, which takes fully into account the fact that 80% of Africans are dependent in some way on agriculture. Sustainable supplies of water, its better management and protection are the key to this success - just as increased agricultural productivity is key to spreading prosperity and our other development goals."

Professor Shem Wandiga, a leading Kenyan chemist, of the university of Nairobi, said: "Water is a critical resource for sustainable development of any country. Its quality and abundance contributes to all aspects of human and environmental well being. However its scarcity results in hunger, water borne diseases pandemics, power shortages and animal deaths. Water conservation and harvesting is critical in Africa and the conference will explore the knowledge available in water management, purification and conservation in the continent."

The outcomes of the meeting will be summarised in a special report to be launched in London on 7 December this year and at the UN World Water Day next March. 

Related Link

Pan African Chemistry Network Sustainable Water Conference

25 - 28 August 2009, University of Nairobi, College of Biological and Physical Sciences, Chiromo Campus, Nairobi, Kenya

Related Links

Link icon Syngenta
Presentations from the Pan Africa Chemistry Networks Water Conference

External links will open in a new browser window

Contact and Further Information

Press Office
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0)1223 432294
Fax: +44 (0)1223 426594