Written by Steve Kumwenda, BASEflow Program Specialist- Hydrogeology

About 500 Hydrogeologists from all over the world came together for the Worldwide 50th Congress of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) in Cape Town South Africa from 18-22 September 2023.  This global gathering, which was held in the picturesque locale at the foot of Table Mountain, provided a platform to share groundbreaking research, exchange knowledge, and foster collaboration in the field of Hydrogeology. As a Hydrogeology Expert and a passionate advocate for sustainable water management, I was thrilled to be part of this prestigious event!

The 2023 congress theme was ‘Groundwater: A Matter of Scale’ with several sub-themes ranging from groundwater’s connectedness with planetary sciences to polycentric groundwater governance systems.

50th IAH Congress, Cape Town

The inaugural speeches emphasized the importance of groundwater in the face of mounting global water challenges. It set the tone for what would be a week full of informative sessions, engaging discussions, and networking opportunities. In his Congress opening remarks, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu indicated that the World may not run out of water, rather we may run out of water that is fit for consumption. This is a very bold statement to make considering that water constitutes 70% of our planet earth yet only 3% of that water is fresh enough for human use, and out of that 3% of fresh water, 98% that is available for use is groundwater. He also pointed out that South Africa lacked adequate investment in operations and maintenance, and the lack of investment in water supply infrastructure that matched the population growth and migration from other countries and people moving from rural to urban areas. These challenges resonated well with most countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The sessions were divided into 5 separate venues, and I joined the group that explored the sub-theme of ‘Catchment scale integrated surface water and groundwater studies’ which dealt with conjunctive or multiple uses of water resources. Conjunctive water resources management entails building a comprehensive knowledge database about hydrological processes occurring in surface and subsurface zones and their interactions at the watershed scale. And of course, the word BASEFLOW 😊 was used in various presentations on the interactions between groundwater and surface water!

The heart of the congress lay in its numerous educational sessions. These sessions were packed with informative talks and workshops. Participants shared their recent research findings, cutting-edge technologies, and innovative methods of groundwater exploration and management.

Table Mountain excursion

To witness hydrogeology in action, participants were offered the opportunity to join field excursions to various water and geology locations around the city. I chose the hiking excursion to explore the magnificent Table Mountain guided by experts who provided in-depth knowledge about the city’s water sources which included 5 reservoir dams at the top of the mountain, geological formations, water quality, and environmental challenges faced in this region. It was both an educational and awe-inspiring experience!

The IAH Congress served as a melting pot of ideas and a hub for building connections. I had the chance to meet like-minded individuals who shared my passion for sustainable water management. I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming nature of the hydrogeology community. The congress fostered an environment where experts and novices alike could collaborate and exchange ideas. This aspect, in my opinion, was one of the most valuable takeaways from the event.

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