#WorldWaterDay: Meet first African scientist to win ‘Nobel water prize’

Pretoria – "This award is for Africa, for African Rivers and African Science."

These are the words of the only aquatic ecologist in the world, the first African scientist and the fourth women to ever win the Nobel Prize for Water also known as the Stockholm Water Prize. 

Dr Jacqueline ‘Jackie" King, a renowned researcher at the universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape, has been declared as the winner of the prestigious award and joins previous South African winners such as Professor John Briscoe and the late Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Professor Kader Asmal on the global water hall of fame.

The ecstatic 75-year-old, who will be officially presented with her award by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in August later this year at Stockholm’s  World Water Week, said her passion has always been to ensure that communities and citizens of countries remain with clean rivers and water for many years to come. 

"Our slogan in South Africa, which is one of the driest countries in the world, has always been to ensure that everyone, rich and poor, obtains clean water while protecting the ecosystem and all that thrives in it," she said.

king - #WorldWaterDay: Meet first African scientist to win ‘Nobel water prize’
Photo: Water Research Commission/Supplied.

King’s work spans over a four-decade period in which she has established and introduced a world acclaimed toolbox for calculating the ecological reserve. 

She reveals that it all began when she decided to train her PhD and Master students, later employing two of them; Dr Cate Brown and Dr Alison Joubert who also work alongside a team of international scientists. 

king3 - #WorldWaterDay: Meet first African scientist to win ‘Nobel water prize’
Photo: Water Research Commission/Supplied.

In essence, King’s project entails Ecohydraulics which is the study of the linkage between physical processes and ecological responses in rivers, estuaries and wetlands. Ecohydralic modelling predicts how hydraulic conditions in a river might change under different development scenarios.

In layman’s terms, King describes it in the following manner: "We model how a river changes if a dam or let’s say a mall is built around it. We present solutions on how this river can be restored and present our research to communities and governments. Our job is to say this is the kind of future you could have if you do this and that. It allows people to have a voice around the water debate and decide what is best for their future. The hope is that in the decisions made, the rivers will survive."

The Stockholm International Water Institute (WISA) which receives nominations around the world for the Water Nobel prize, has awarded up to 31 laureates with very few being women.

The only WISA office outside Stockholm is based in Pretoria and WISA has maintained the atmosphere is ripe, now more than ever to have more women, from any background, being nominated and winning.

Commenting on King’s award, chief executive officer of SA’s Water Research Commission (WRC) Dhesigen Naidoo said: "It is a very big deal because her entire scientific career has been in partnership with the WRC. Her award is also a very big deal because it is saying the world is finally acknowledging a continent that has gone unnoticed. It also affirms that South Africa water science is world leading. 

"The most important thing about Jackie’s prize is that the world has spent many decades investing strongly in better technology, engineering and better science around the human use of water and increasingly the world is realising that if we are going to be sustainable and are going to have rivers in the future, the health of a river must be a priority at all times," he said.


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