South Africa: Researching the effects of chemicals on water ecosystems

The Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality (UCEWQ) at the Rhodes University Institute for Water Research was established in 2002 to help South Africa conserve and protect its water resources.

Detergents in riversProtecting water resources

South Africa is a dry country where clean fresh water is often in short supply. The annual rainfall is just 500 mm, less than half the world average.

UCEWQ aims to undertake projects that contribute to community development and poverty alleviation, improve stakeholder engagement and promote water quality education. The Centre is supported financially by the Unilever Foundation. Unilever's support for the centre is part of our global water sustainability initiative.

Research & monitoring

The Centre specialises in aquatic toxicology – the science of how chemicals affect plants and animals in water courses. It conducts research into the effects of chemicals on water ecosystems and is developing a new water quality monitoring system.

For example, a current project is investigating the impact of laundry detergents used directly in the Balfour River by local communities. So far, results indicate that surfactants discharged into the river do not reach levels that could cause harmful biological effects. Further laboratory work is being carried out to provide additional data that will allow us to develop biochemical indicators of biological responses to surfactants. This will help us apply the findings from the Balfour to other rivers.

Training & consultancy

The centre provides training and consultancy services to improve the management of water resources and helps the government develop water protection policies. It contributes expertise to local river catchment management plans and regularly provides water quality measuring assessments.

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