dirty dealings and dirty water

Submitted by turbosprout on Thu, 2008-11-27 09:24

SA's water quality had some bad press earlier this year and now it appears that a leading water researcher is about to be axed for lifting the lid on what is really going on.

Reading on environment.co.za the CSIR has suspended Dr Anthony Turton over a presentation he was to deliver about South Africa's water crisis at a high level conference last week.

The council executive of the CSIR on Friday suspended Dr Anthony Turton, an acclaimed political scientist, with immediate effect, charging him with insubordination and bringing the CSIR into disrepute. His keynote address, A Clean South Africa, was to be presented at the CSIR's "Science Real and Relevant" conference in Pretoria this week, but he was forbidden from delivering it because it contained "unsubstantiated" facts, according to the executive, as well as photographs of this year's xenophobic attacks, which, the executive added, "may disturb people" however Dr Turton's report had already undergone a peer review process and was extensively circulated before the conference. Dr Turton has been prevented from even entering the CSIR campus grounds since Friday.

Read on for more about the state of SA's water and also to sign a petition in support of Dr Turton.

Taking a brief look at Dr Turton's paper, he argues that a lack of investment in science, engineering and technology (SET) since the early 1990's, the termination of important research projects and the shift to a contract driven income model has had a "catastrophic effect" on our national scientific capacity to deal with the technical challenges our water quality is facing.

"This means that we are now flying blind as a nation. Significantly, we cannot import those technical solutions because, in the case if microcystin as an example, there are few other places in the world where there are similar levels of toxin in the national water resources (China is an exception), so there is simply no need in most countries to solve this specific problem with the same urgency that we are confronted by."

Dr Turton also said "our need to reduce nitrogen and phosphate end-of-pipe loads by orders of magnitude at sewage works, if we are to mitigate the exponential growth in Cyanobacteria blooms that now threaten our national water security, will have to be home-grown solutions, because no other developed country faces this challenge."

He also pointed out that we "need to prevent the unchecked growth in numbers of babies being born with urogenital defects and counter the loss of male fertility, in both cases the result of endocrine disruptors caused by the use of chemicals to control malaria in some of the poorest communities in this country."

Science journalist and former Journalism head of department of the University of Stellenbosch, Dr George Claassen asserted that the withdrawal of the presentation by the CSIR was an "absolute disgrace". "This is a very serious encroachment on academic freedom and the right of scientists to announce their results, no matter how bad those results are for our view of things," he commented. Claassen noted that academic and research freedom was protected under Section 16 of the constitution, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

Wessa Western Cape's Patrick Dowling said: "It is a hugely important paper that should be aired at the highest decision-making forums." He said Turton's paper was "very much in line with the noises Wessa's been making about water quality and the level of strategic national attention and budgeting that it should have".

Turton's report highlighted that South Africa could be headed for a water supply and water quality crisis that could negatively impact on the economic growth and development of the country, as well as lead to social unrest. The findings conflicted starkly with recent government assurances that South Africa was not facing a water crisis similar to the one prevailing in the electricity-supply sector.

Be sure to read Dr Turton's full report/a> and sign the petition against Dr Turton's suspension.

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