A University of Cape Town (UCT) graduate and retired academic, Dr Jacqueline King, has become the first South African woman to win the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, an accolade viewed by water researchers as the water Oscars or Nobel Prize.

The nominating committee of the Stockholm Water Prize says King’s dedication to raising awareness about the value of rivers and their importance to people was one of the multiple reasons she was chosen to receive the award.

“Dr Jacqueline King has, through scientific rigour, selfless dedication and effective advocacy, transformed the way we think, talk and work with water as a flow of and for life.”

King has worked as a researcher and consulted for more than 20 countries with governments of the Mekong, Zambezi, Indus, and Okavango River Basins. Through her work, King has advanced the scientific understanding of water flows, giving decision-makers in countries new tools to analyse the costs and benefits of developing river systems.

The Stockholm International Water Institute commends King for her work.

“Dr King has helped decision-makers understand that healthy river ecosystems are not a luxury, but the basis for sustainable development.”

As a pioneer in water and river ecosystems research, her work has influenced the acclaimed 1998 National Water Act of South Africa, which is guiding governments and institutions around the world. King began the early development of these innovative measures as a researcher at UCT.

King expressed her gratitude for being chosen for the award in an official statement to UCT.

“I find this award humbling, energising and very rewarding.”

She added that it is important our rivers are taken care of and that we understand the role they play in providing residents with water.

“I have never sought high-profile jobs but was happy to be a working scientist, free to say what I felt needed to be said. I am delighted that the silent voices of river systems and their dependent people are increasingly being acknowledged. We all lose if rivers become severely degraded due to poorly-informed development and management. It does not have to be like that.”

A royal ceremony will be held in August, where King will received the winner of the 2019 Stockholm Water Prize from HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The award recognises and honours men, women and organizations that have made “extraordinary water-related” achievements.

The award acknowledges King’s help towards ensuring a more balanced approach to the development of dams and river water extraction schemes, allowing both the natural environment and vulnerable members of society access to water.

The process of deciding on a winner for the Stockholm Water Prize is rigorous. A nominating committee elects a candidate and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences makes a final decision. The final decision, meanwhile, is overseen and finally confirmed by the Board of Stockholm International Water Institute.

An article on UCT’s website tells that King came from humble beginnings and worked hard to make a difference in the world, overcoming her circumstances and many obstacles.

“When she enrolled at UCT in 1971, she did so without a matric and, in her 20s, on a “late starter” ticket. After emerging with her doctorate in 1983 (with two babies in between), and while raising her children, King embarked on part-time research.”

Currently, King works as a professor at the Institute for Water Studies at the University of the Western Cape and was the co-founder and principal research at the Freshwater Research Unit of UCT for nearly 40 years.

This is not the first award for King; her work has been recognised with both gold and silver medals from the Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists, along with South Africa’s “Women in Water” award.


Picture: University of Cape Town, Dr Jackie King.

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