The prize is equivalent to what many may consider as the Nobel Prize for water. But Dr Jacqueline King, 75, considers herself an ordinary ecologist whose career spans four decades.
In 2009, she led an international advisory group appointed by the World Bank and acted as an adviser to Pakistan’s government in a dispute the country had with India over the Kishanganga Dam in the Himalayas. King is also the recipient of the WWF Living Planet Award.
Now, the renowned researcher from UCT and the Western Cape joins previous South African winners such as Professor John Briscoe and the late minister of water affairs and forestry Professor Kader Asmal in the global water hall of fame.
Speaking to Independent Media in Pretoria this week, just hours after she had learnt of her prize, King said her passion has always been to ensure that communities and citizens of countries have access to clean rivers and water for many years to come.
“Our slogan in South Africa, which is one of the driest countries in the world, has always been to ensure that everyone, rich and poor, obtains clean water while protecting the ecosystem and all that thrives in it,” she said.
Her accolade is for a world acclaimed toolbox which calculates the ecological reserve. In essence, King’s project entails ecohydraulics, which is the study of the linkage between physical processes and ecological responses in rivers, estuaries and wetlands.
Ecohydraulic modelling predicts how hydraulic conditions in a river might change under different development scenarios.
King describes it in the following manner: “We model how a river changes if a dam or let’s say a mall is built around it. We present solutions on how this river can be restored and present our research to communities and governments
“The hope is that in the decisions made, the rivers will survive.”
Her methods for assessing the water requirements aimed at sustaining river ecosystems were included in the National Water Act of 1998.
The Stockholm International Water Institute (Wisa) which receives nominations around the world has awarded up to 31 laureates, with very few being women.
The only Wisa office outside Stockholm is based in Pretoria.
Commenting on King’s ward, chief executive officer of SA’s Water Research Commission (WRC) Dhesigen Naidoo said: “It is a very big deal because her entire scientific career has been in partnership with the WRC.
“Her award is also a very big deal because it is saying the world is finally acknowledging a continent that has gone unnoticed. It also affirms that South Africa’s water science is world leading.
“The most important thing about Jackie’s prize is that the world has spent many decades investing strongly in better technology, engineering and better science around the human use of water and, increasingly, the world is realising that if we are going to be sustainable and are going to have rivers in the future, the health of a river must be a priority at all times,” he said.