The United Nations Chair on African Great Lakes and Rivers at the University of Waterloo in Canada will study the integrated management of African lake and river basins, with initial emphasis on the Great Lakes of East Africa.

Located at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the chair will undertake graduate education, research and training and contribute to the resolution of African water research and management issues.

The inaugural chairholder is Professor Robert Hecky of the University of Waterloo’s biology department. Hecky is a Canadian limnologist with a record of research, capacity development and project management in East Africa.

Nations in East Africa’s Rift Valley have a wide array of pressing water management needs, exacerbated by serious underlying economic, environmental and social problems, Dr. Hecky said. Strengthening of scientific and institutional capacity is critical to resolving Africa’s water crisis. The chair will serve as a focal point for programmes to strengthen the capacity of Africa’s Great Lakes nations to understand, monitor and manage shared aquatic resources.

The principal activities of this four year partnership include:

  • research, basic and applied, on the ecosystem of African Great Lakes and Rivers
  • graduate education and training, particularly of African students and professionals
  • leadership of the African capacity-development activities of United Nations University’s (UNU) International Network on Water, Environment and Health
  • scientific consultancy services, directed to the sustainable management of African aquatic ecosystems
  • collaboration with African institutions and professionals through joint research, training programmes, scientific exchanges, fellowships and information dissemination

The University of Waterloo, Environment Canada’s National Water Research Institute and UNU International Network on Water, Environment and Health will share the costs of the chair. The partners will also seek support from international development agencies and foundations that support African-related work.

A support team of research associates and students will be established and key universities in East and South Africa will be approached to associate with the chair.

Initial projects will focus on Lake Victoria and Lake Malawi, including development of regional centres to provide training in river basin management and water toxicology.

Modelling Research, Lake Malawi/Nyasa

Among the Chair’s first initiatives is a project to help predict water quality problems in Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa), a 500 km long, 48 km wide body which lies between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Lake Malawi has exceptional water quality and fishing is heavy along its banks. Increasing nutrient loadings, however, threaten rapid eutrophication, depleting the lake’s oxygen. To avoid this, it is necessary to evaluate the consequences of changing land-use and water demands.

A model will be created to predict nutrient and sediment inputs, pollutant dispersal, phytoplankton growth and future eutrophication rates. Training in the model’s use will be provided to the staff of national organisations in each of the three countries, together with graduate students who will return to their home agencies, both to use the model and to train others.

With World Bank funding, the project is to be implemented with additional support from Delft Hydraulics of the Netherlands, and from scientists from several universities, government institutes and private firms in Malawi, Canada, the USA and the UK.

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