South African PhD hydrology student reflects on IWSN-funded UK visit

I am a PhD hydrology student in the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN, South Africa). I recently visited the UK for two months (September to November 2019) as part of the Advanced Professional and Academic Development Program which is led by the Institute of Natural Resources (INR), in partnership with the International Water Security Network (IWSN), the University of the West of England (UWE) and the Centre for Water Resources Research of UKZN. I am currently employed as a developing lecturer in the Hydrology department at the University of Zululand. My PhD research investigates the hydrological and socioeconomic impacts of replacing commercial forest plantations with macadamia nuts through measuring the water use of these two land uses in a water-stressed South African catchment.

During my time in the UK, I visited the UWE, Oxford and Cranfield Universities. At UWE, I was hosted by Professor Chad Staddon, who chairs IWSN. While at UWE, I presented a seminar titled ‘The Resilience of the UK Fresh Fruit System to water related risks: a case study from a semi-arid South African catchment’ and attended the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Conference (October) in London. While at Cranfield, I attended the ‘About Drought’ meeting in London (November), which was very interesting and informative as it revealed the perceptions of the general public on drought in the UK and it included the use of innovative tools to conduct and present research. I also spent a few days at Oxford University where I had meetings with members of the Environmental Change Institute, who I work with, together with the INR and Cranfield, on a Global Food Security Program (GFS) funded project investigating the Resilience of the UK Food System.

Through this trip, I have learnt a lot of research related skills through interacting with several experts in climate, water, land, food, energy and engineering related research.  I observed the similarities and differences between UK and SA universities, and took a lot of information to share with my colleagues. As this was the first time that I travelled outside the Southern African region, it is important to reflect on the experience: Overall, I had an amazing stay in the UK and I would like to thank Duncan Hay (INR Executive Director) and Chad Staddon for offering this opportunity! I am grateful that everything went smoothly, from international flights to local travel and accommodation. In that regard, I would like to particularly thank Wayne Powell (IWSN) for making most of the arrangements and for dedicating time to give me tips for travelling around the UK. I would also like to acknowledge the hospitality of Dr Chloe Sutcliffe and professors Tim Hess and Jerry Knox from Cranfield University for their hospitality throughout my stay.

The most amazing thing about the trip is the impact it had on my family and friends – I did not realise how big this trip was until I saw how excited (and somewhat worried) they were for me. Observing the excitement levels build up before, during and after the trip inspires me to work harder! That’s the biggest impact the trip had – a reflection of where I come from and how far I can go, through education. I hope this can be an inspiration for all young people, particularly from disadvantaged communities, to believe that education can be used as a tool to change their lives (and their families) for better.