Save H2O Today for tomorrow

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Cape Town’s drought has been well documented, but water scarcity is not an isolated local problem: it’s a challenge that is faced globally. The H2O Today exhibition currently at the Iziko South African Museum (Cape Town) is in its last week (ends 31 July 2019) and worth seeing.

H2O Today exhibition, at the Iziko South African Museum until 31 July 2019

This information-rich exhibition is in South Africa for the first time and its display was organised in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Iziko and Ulambile Consulting. Primary sponsorship for Iziko to host the exhibition was provided by the US Consulate in Cape Town.

“This is an international exhibition that travels to different countries, but we wanted the works to speak to our people,” says Wayne Florence, Iziko’s curator of the exhibition.

The exhibition has been adapted to showcase the importance of water in Cape Town with regard to its local biodiversity. “One positive aspect of Cape Town’s drought was that it showed us how wasteful we were with water. We quickly learned to change our behaviour and use water sustainably and wisely.”

The installations contain stunning imagery supported by interactive audio-visual material. The exhibition starts with the interactive H2O Art, which is not part of the original Smithsonian exhibition but is a space where adults and children can draw art or make written pledges on paper shaped as water droplets.

The H2O Art installation is accompanied by the UNICEF WASH (Water And Sanitation Hygiene) initiative. This initiative has set the global goal to achieve universal, sustainable and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

The UNICEF WASH (Water And Sanitation Hygiene) installation

Wayne explains: “Death by diarrhoea-related diseases is staggering and teaching children to wash their hands can cut those fatalities in half. The UNICEF installation is low cost and easy to produce. It uses very little water and recycles the water that is used.”

The different panels of H20 Today each showcase a central theme such as the ripple effect (with regard to water scarcity); Earth as the water planet; rising tides (because of climate change); H2O today, H2O tomorrow; and access to clean water as a human right.

“On Human Rights Day we had a panel discussion about water as a human right with the public in a filled Iziko TH Barry auditorium. While it is a human right, we must be mindful of overutilisation of Africa’s lifeblood,” Wayne states. 

Water scarcity has a huge effect on our biodiversity. This is a synthetic waterfowl from Iziko’s Peter Flack Collection. (Photo: Wayne Florence)

An infographic displaying the amounts of water that is used for everything from growing crops to laundry.

Effective ways of ensuring sustainable water are changing our water usage behaviour by reducing wasteful practices, reducing our carbon footprint and investing in technology and research that will unlock alternative “green” sources for producing potable water.

One potential solution identified to combat water scarcity is desalination; a process which makes seawater drinkable but, like all things, has an environmental cost. “At Iziko museum, we support a balanced view to water management,” he adds.

Would you drink seawater? Desalination is one potential solution identified to combat water scarcity.

A desalination model

The additional installations of the exhibition showcase an interactive 3-D artwork of Victoria Falls, key specimens from Iziko’s terrestrial vertebrates collection showing the aquatic biodiversity of Table Mountain and including the elusive Cape clawless otter, a wonderful diorama of local waterfowl from the Peter Flack Collection donated to Iziko and a map of the twenty longest rivers in Africa.

A map of the twenty longest rivers in Africa

A display of a synthetic low-water garden is accompanied by information on how to invite local bird life into your backyard. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary theme of the exhibition, anthropological objects which chronicle the development of the water canister from an ostrich egg used by the Khoisan to the plastic water bottles that we use today are also on display.

An ostrich egg used by the Khoisan to hold water

“Plastic bottles end up in the aquatic environment as microplastics. We may not see the plastic, but fish eat them. It’s more desirable to use a reusable water bottle,” Wayne explains.

“It is ironic that the same thing we drink water from has such a negative influence on the aquatic environment.”

◊ Thank you to Wayne Florence, Curator of Marine Invertebrates, Research and Exhibitions Department at Iziko South African Museum.

◊ Photos: Cliffordene Norton, except when credited differently.

Buro: MvH
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