With the Budapest Water Summit 2019 just around the corner in October, I thought it would be interesting address a very current topic: careers in water.
I am convinced that this field of science is very underrated in South Africa, compared to the magnitude and impact of water affairs. Seldom do I meet young professionals wanting to excel in water management or hydrology; I`m assuming it is not as popular as being a doctor, lawyer, actuarial scientist or entrepreneur, yet it could be of the most secure careers for the future. 

Water is a problem. Not just in South Africa, Africa…most countries in the world face some water related issue. Whether it is water scarcity, flooding or pollution, it never ceases to bring on new challenges. It`s impact is tremendous, it affects our lives to the very core and it is one of the big question marks of the next decade. 

When they open your eyes

Although we hear it left, right and centre, that we are facing a global water crisis – let`s be honest – we usually shrug it off, because it seems so futuristic and distant. “Aagh, it won`t affect me” mentality is quite common, I must admit, I am guilty too. 

But then one day I attend the Green Youth Indaba, where young innovators are trying to solve problems in urban and rural environments, lot of them focused on water and sanitation. While they are pitching their mind blowing inventions to investors/sponsors, they show you pictures of the communities where they hope to make a difference. And then they shock you with things like:

  • Number of deaths caused by drinking polluted water
  • Number of child and adult deaths caused by lack of hygiene
  • Number of km-s a child has to walk in a rural village to haul clean drinking water
  • How many lives could be saved each year by teaching kids to wash their hands
  • The number of schools that still don`t have flushing toilets
  • The annual mm-s of rainfall in an arid region, and the number of cows/sheep that die due to lack of water

Last, but not least, one young inventor compared how much water an average Johannesburg city dweller uses as opposed to his village in a Limpopo community. He also gave the audience a whopping number to demonstrate how much water is wasted in South Africa.

Listening to the presentations I must say, got me thoughtful. And thirsty. So, I took a big sip of my complimentary 500ml ice cold water, only to realize that I was holding a quarter of the daily clean (!) water consumption of 1 person in the presenter`s village. Now, that stuff hits you hard.

And then you feel it...

Flashback to 2017 December, when I was in Cape Town at the Young Water Professionals Conference, an international biannual event for the youth section of the International Water Association – that year it was organized in South Africa, this year it is Toronto. 

As the young professionals flocked in from all over the world, including Hungary (shout-out to the young researcher from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics), the water problem felt very real: every Cape Town household member was restricted to  approx.. 85litres of water per day, some public toilets were equipped with hand sanitisers as there was no running water in the taps. 

Meanwhile, there was a major water pipe burst in the Green Point area of CT, where water was gushing down the streets for 2 whole days, before the municipality cared to take a look. 

Ironic, right?

Now, let me get to the point of why studies in water are totally worth your while:

1. You actually get to do good

Helping to solve some of the issues contributing to the water crisis also contribute to creating a sustainable, environment friendly future for all. Of course, you are not expected to invent the wheel, but if – as an engineer, scientist, academic, whatever – you can contribute to the solution instead of being part of the problem, it is bound to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. But seriously, it is great feeling to know your work makes a difference, no matter how small or big. 

2. International outlook

The water problem is global, water supply is limited, however the demand for it is not. The future will see massive collaborations and knowledge exchange between governments, companies and research hubs to try to tackle the looming shortage. Sharing best practices, know-how will be a requirement for professionals in the sector, so it is very unlikely that you will be chained to your desk in the Durban/Pretoria/Johannesburg etc. office of your company or institute. Remember, water is a global industry, so if you are any good, you are bound to travel, network and maybe even take on longer assignments abroad.

3. Accelerated innovation

There is an army of entities that are focused on reforming the water industry, whether it is the infrastructure, the recycling or purifying to industrial solutions for manufacturers. If you choose a career in water, it can take your boat (hehe) to many industries, municipalities, agriculture, cleaning and treatment plants, all the way to education (remember: kids not washing hands). The South African government is also heavily focused on this sector and encourages innovative solutions, be it small or big, as there are plenty of problems that need to be solved.

In short, as a water professional are so many places where you could add value. Emerging and mature economies alike are investing heavily in the water sector and innovative solutions, so it is bound to be exciting. Imagine marrying computer technology and intelligent solutions with the water sector. There are literally no limits.

Got you curious?

If you want to explore this further, let me give you a hint: wait for the Hungarian scholarship programme opening in November, as there will be great opportunities related to the water sector at Bachelors, Master`s and PhD level alike, so you can dive right in.

The Young Water Professionals of South Africa have a great website where they give you an indication of the variety of water sector careers. Check it out here, it is quite impressive: http://www.ywp-za.org/career-choices.html

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