UCT hosts international forum on water policy

08 November 2023 | Story Nicole Forrest. Photos Supplied. Read time 8 min.
Attendees at the 11th biennial Rosenberg Forum on International Water Policy
Attendees at the 11th biennial Rosenberg Forum on International Water Policy

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Water and Production Economics (WPE) research unit hosted the 11th biennial Rosenberg Forum on International Water Policy from 24 to 27 October. The event centred around the impact of water management on the economy and welfare of people in the Global South.

Established in 1996, the Rosenberg forum was created with the view to honour former Bank of America chairperson and chief executive officer, Richard Rosenberg, who had a vested interest in water resources.

Since then, the invitation-only event has been held every other year in different locations around the world. Sessions bring together international water scholars and managers who are leaders in their field to engage in dialogues around the science of water management, as well as their experiences in the matter.

The forum is a programme of the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources’ California Institute for Water Resources. Its overarching theme is “Reducing Conflict in the Management of Water Resources”, with specific sub-themes chosen to focus on the unique challenges faced at the locale where the event is presented.

The first for Africa

This year’s event was hosted at UCT’s Graduate School of Business’ (UCT GSB) Academic Conference Centre. The location provided the forum with the opportunity to engage more scholars and professionals from the Global South to add their voices to the discussion around water management.

“We wanted to be in Africa for the first time, but beyond the geographical symbolism, we also wanted to involve academics, policy makers, and practitioners from different backgrounds and expertise. This gives us the opportunity to look at the problems through different lenses,” said Dr Djiby Thiam, an associate professor of economics and the director of Water and Production Economics at UCT.

The event brought together attendees and experts from across the globe, including:

  • Dr Glenda Humiston, advisory committee member and vice president of the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Dr Soroosh Sorooshian, forum chair, advisory committee member, and distinguished professor of the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine
  • Dr Ariel Dinar, distinguished professor emeritus of environmental economics and policy at the University of California, Riverside.

Acting local, thinking global

For the most recent edition of the Rosenberg Forum, Dr Thiam and his co-organisers chose the theme “Water Quantity and Quality Management, Economic Production and Welfare Implications in the Global South”.

“The theme was chosen to reflect the growing new realities that characterise the world, where countries from the Global South are positioning themselves as new global players shaping the destiny of human social welfare,” he explained.

“Given the growing population and economic development that characterise countries in the Global South, water demand is expected to grow, putting more pressure on the limited natural resources. And this may affect social welfare.”

Thiam added: “What we mean by social welfare here is where people are able to observe improvement in their living conditions or their livelihoods. So, we wanted to have a theme that could reconcile water resource management with social welfare in the context of the Global South.”

Dr Thiam
Dr Djiby Thiam

The forum sessions focused on innovation in agricultural water quality and quantity management; how improved water use technologies in this sector could affect people, economies, and policies; the impacts of water productivity; and gender issues in water management.

Water management problems are commonplace on the global stage. However, solutions to address scarcity, pollution, and quality degradation may differ depending on financial resources as well as social and cultural norms.

“There are a lot of good practices in the Global South, but sometimes those practices are not known because they come from isolated places and that makes it difficult to drive uptake. There are challenges like weak institutional structures, lack of funding mechanisms, and lack of skills and human capital, which make this difficult,” noted Thiam.

“By providing answers to very specific water-related questions that take into consideration these realities of the Global South, we are able to complement the existing stock of knowledge in the field and offer solutions that are tailored to specific contexts while being efficient.”

Four days of forum

The event programme spanned four days, kicking off with a full-day pre-forum tour that gave the attendees the opportunity to learn about storm water management, blue-green infrastructure, aquifer recharge, and wastewater treatment in the Western Cape.

Days two and three of the event consisted of four sessions that addressed a wide range of topics related to the challenges and opportunities of increasing water-use efficiency for the Global South. The key takeaway here was that multi- and cross-sectoral approaches are key to effective and inclusive water management.

Sessions focused on how digital technology can be used to address climate change, gender-inclusive approaches to climate-smart agriculture adoption, the collective management of surface and groundwater resources, and innovative approaches to water scarcity issues, among others.


“We wanted to present and discuss results that show the relationship between mining and water pollution.”

The fourth and final day of the forum was a special technical workshop, organised by Thiam, Ariel Dinar and Christina Babbitt, and comprised three sessions. Discussions centred around the complexities associated with water in the agriculture, urban and mining sectors, as well as climate-induced risks and policy interventions.

“We know that between 75% and 80% of the freshwater in the world is consumed by agriculture. Given the water scarcity situations many countries face, the discussion was around coming up with technological solutions and management practices that could increase water-use efficiency,” said Thiam.

“Then, we know that mining plays an important role in creating employment opportunities and supporting innovation. At the same time, if it’s not properly regulated, it can pollute the environment. So, we wanted to present and discuss results that show the relationship between mining and water pollution.”

A technical examination

Unlike other sessions, the technical workshop included mainly academics and researchers. By narrowing the group to scholars, Thiam, and his co-organisers aimed to create an environment in which data and methodologies could be rigorously tested – and make their way into policy-influencing academic papers.

“The final session was focused on discussing the major obstacles that prevent policies from being implemented. These are institutional barriers, policy-related barriers, contexts, and related barriers to figure out how we can make sure that the policies that are designed are properly implemented in environments often characterised by growing levels of uncertainties.

“We wanted to generate an academic product, which is a collection of papers that are going to be published in the journals Applied Economic Perspective and Policy and Water Economics and Policy. To do that, we needed this technical workshop that makes use of data and economic methodologies that are rigorous enough to be published,” explained Thiam.

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