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[CAPE TOWN] A project to boost water resources in southern Africa, first announced in 2003, held its first executive meeting last month.

The Water Centres of Excellence Initiative, started by New Partnerships for Development in Africa (NEPAD), aims to promote cooperation and knowledge transfer among water research institutions to secure adequate clean water and manage resources for national and regional development.

It was established after the first African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in 2003 but an expansion of the centres is only now under discussion.

Centres of water excellence are already operational in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, and other Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries will be invited to become partners if they have water research programmes. 

The first meeting of the committee — held in Stellenbosch, Cape Town on 13 November — discussed plans for the next three years. They include providing bursaries for staff and postgraduate students to build capacity at water centres, and technology and knowledge transfer at workshops and conferences.

"We want to see improved resource management and policy formulation," said Eugene Cloete, chair of the executive committee and dean of the faculty of science at Stellenbosch University, which is coordinating the project. High-quality water sources in rural and urban areas and the use of water purification technology are key aims.

"The focus is on people and strengthening networks through disseminating research results and not on funding specific research topics," he said.

Daniel Nkhuwa, a water expert at the University of Zambia, said the region has some people qualified to deal with water issues, especially groundwater which until now has been neglected.

But he said that there is a need for more training at water centres.

"Some institutions and infrastructure need updating, but funding still remains very low in most of our countries," Nkhuwa told SciDev.Net, adding that improving knowledge will need more funding for education.

Murray Biedler, programme administrator for the Africa Caribbean Pacific–European Union (ACP-EU) Water Facility, told SciDev.Net that the European Commission (EC) has approved around US$2 million of funding for the network, which will be implemented in 2010 under the EC's Joint Research Commission.

He said: "From a donor point of view, one development we would hope to see (after three years) is more than one network established in Africa, and then at least the beginnings of South–South collaboration and exchange between networks."