New: Handbook of Drought & Flood Prediction in South Africa

Written by Prof. WJR Alexander

by Prof. WJR Alexander
 
Professor Alexander’s comprehensive and groundbreaking new handbook ‘Analytical methods for water resource development and management‘ is available as free public resource created thanks to a donation of R200 000 from South Africa’s Water Research Commission. It details analytical methods for the development and management of water supplies and provides guidance to policymakers, researchers and the general public.
 
 
Raphael Fresco
 
On the front of the handbook is an illustration on that sets the story. Professor Alexander explains:
 
This is part of Raphael’s famous fresco (wall painting) titled the School of Athens in the Vatican. I had the privilege of studying it during WWII when we had plenty of time to spare. The theme of the fresco is Philosophy and this part of the fresco shows Euclid teaching mathematics to a group of enthusiastic pupils. He has a pair of dividers symbolising measurement and is pointing to a visual image on a slate. His studies have enabled us to measure distances from a point on earth to a point on the moon with a high degree of accuracy. But we still cannot predict future rainfall and river flow other than in probabilistic terms. This is the difference between accurate mathematical descriptions and broad probabilistic methods that we have so much difficulty in mastering. 
 
Alexander continues:
The issues covered in a handbook are of extreme national and possibly international importance. The problem is that I discuss the climate change issue in passing and demonstrate with a high degree of confidence that the observed multi-year, widespread occurrence of floods and droughts occur synchronously with variations in the global receipt and poleward distribution of solar energy. There is not an atom of evidence that they are the consequence of climate change. 
 
Water demands will exceed resources 
 
Here in South Africa, as well as in many other countries on the African continent with dry climates the demands will soon exceed the available resources. This will not happen suddenly. At first rare, major droughts will be the problem. But as the demand increases even the frequent minor droughts will result in the imposition of restrictions. We have already entered this period here in South Africa. 
 
Looking into the future we will have to develop a greater understanding of the numerical properties of multi-year sequences of river low, as well as of the isolated high flows that come to our rescue when they restore the water volume in the empty dams. Immediately the concept of multi-year river flows comes into the analyses it will be like opening a Pandora’s Box of issues that have to be addressed. These are detailed in the handbook. 
 
On the demand side, the components are also becoming more complex. Until very recently the principal demands were agricultural (food production), urban and industrial demands. Now the environmental concerns have to be accommodated. How will they be accommodated in the numerical analyses? 
 
On top of all this, the climate change issue has become a major interest. Briefly, the theory is that increasing discharges of carbon dioxide into the global atmosphere will cause atmospheric temperatures to rise. This in turn will result in increases in frequency and magnitude of floods and droughts. The problem is that there is a strong debate among the proponents of climate change regarding the global temperature changes but not a single example of increases in floods and droughts. There is no way whatsoever that climate change scientists will be able to provide information on the multi-year properties of the hydro-meteorological processes required for water resource analyses. 
 
Instead of accepting my invitation that we get around the table to discuss these important issues, I have been subjected to personal vilification and refusal to accept my papers for publication. This includes the tactic of deliberately delaying the publication of my handbook, the original version of which has been gathering dust on the shelves of the Water Research Commission ever since February 2010. 
 
Recommendation 
 
As a recognized expert in his field Professor Alexander has increasing concerns regarding the welfare of the poor and disadvantaged people of South Africa and elsewhere in the world. He insists his handbook addresses and resolves these issues in the public domain. 
 
“My recommendation is that those institutions that appreciate the dangers that lie ahead and the urgent need to develop measures to accommodate them, should as a matter of great urgency organise a multi-day event at minimum cost to discuss these issues and provide measures to accommodate them,” says Alexander.