Wednesday, 01 April 2015

Joint Department of Water and Sanitation/WESSA water action project wins United Nations award

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A joint water project initiated by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) under the Chief Directorate Transformation and by Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eco-Schools has won a United Nations-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award.

The DWS/WESSA Eco-Schools Water Project was awarded in the category “Best participatory, communication, awareness-raising and education practices” and shares the award with Project India.  

The annual “Water for Life” Best Practices Award aims to acknowledge and promote efforts to meet international commitments made on water and related issues by 2015. The award recognises outstanding projects that are working to ensure sustainable long-term management of water resources and to help achieve the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. The theme of the awards was “Water and Sustainable Development”.  

The DWS/WESSA Eco-Schools Water Project – officially launched at the Youth Summit on Water and Climate Change in July 2014 – encourages water conservation and the wise use of water resources at school level from grades R to 12. The 50 participating schools, located in eight provinces across South Africa, are required to set up a water action project that includes the entire school and members of the local community. The project’s main objective is to strengthen water and sanitation education in South Africa through implementation of the international Eco-School Programme’s seven step framework for Education for Sustainable Development learning and change. These steps guide schools through a learning process which promotes water conservation and sanitation education, as well as engaging learners in enquiry-based learning methods which empower them to better understand their local water context and to take action to improve this.  

The project has a strong inclusivity focus, emphasising public participation, participatory learning processes and action taking. Activities are focused on better water management and ensuring water security for the more disadvantaged communities that may not have access to potable water. This is especially problematic in areas where water is increasingly scarce due to climate change and poor catchment management practices. The project is also aimed at supporting the DWS’s successful Baswa le Meetse competition and awards - a Ministerial project that has been active since 2003.

The success of the project, now recognised by this significant international award, is an example of government and civil society organisations working together effectively in the education and environmental conservation fields. WESSA Eco-Schools has a long standing relationship with the Department of Water and Sanitation and – through the initiative of the former Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Rejoice Mabudafhasi – was selected in 2013 to assist the Department in achieving their Vision2020 national objectives by deepening the learning and implementation of sustainable practices around water at schools. The international Eco-Schools Programme itself has been implemented in the country by WESSA since 2003 and is currently funded nationally by Nampak.

The award is managed by the United Nations Office to Support the International Decade for Action Water for Life 2005-2015/UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and the UN World Water Assessment Programme. This is the first time the jury has awarded two projects as co-winners of the “Best participatory, communication, awareness-raising and education practices” category. The award for Best water management practices went to Cultivando Água Boa/Cultivando Agua Buena in Brazil. The 2015 awards will be formally presented at the opening of the Water for Life Voices Exhibition at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Monday, 30 March.

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Published in Energy and Environment