Aurelia van Eeden

Environmental Consultant

Going to a university in Norway to study the African problem of water shortages sounds like an odd idea. But it’s working perfectly for Aurelia van Eeden who can see the bigger picture more clearly from a distance.

Besides, the Norwegian University of Life Science has the money to pump into research that we just don’t have in Africa, she says.

Van Eeden’s dream is for everyone to have access to clean water. Competition for water is rising due to population growth, climate change and development driven policies.

But politics and skewed power relations muddy the picture, such that small-scale water users and marginalised groups lose out to large commercial water users.

“There are a lot of conflicts because of the lack of water, but it’s not necessarily about scarcity, it’s about access. There’s a lot of water, but it’s very unequally distributed and people don’t get access to it. That’s definitely giving rise to more civil unrest,” she says.

Van Eeden worked as an environmental consultant after completing an honours degree at the University of Pretoria. She wanted to gain a master’s degree, and found a course in Norway that would give her the experience she wanted and satisfy her desire to live abroad for a while.

“The university specialises in environmental studies and focuses on developing countries, so I have been able to get more information about Africa by stepping out of Africa to get a better view of what’s going on,” she says.

As part of her studies she spent five months in Tanzania researching communities’ rights and access to water, and raised funds to help a Tanzanian farmer dig a borehole for use by the local community.

She speaks at numerous climate change and water security seminars and held a workshop on water development in East London in July for the South African Young Water Professional Group.

She will return to South Africa at the end of the year and is now exploring opportunities to work for water-focused organizations. — Lesley Stones