College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Director of UKZN’s Centre for Water Resources Research, Professor Jeff Smithers.

International Engineering Associate Award for Water Resources Research Chair

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Professor Jeff Smithers, Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Research and Innovation and Director of UKZN’s Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR), has been recognised as a Distinguished International Associate (DIA) by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) in England.

The RAEng DIA programme promotes the intensification of collaboration and connection between high achiever international engineers and institutions or individuals in the United Kingdom with the view to developing a broad international community or network of top diverse engineers across countries and disciplines. This contributes to the RAEng’s goal of an inclusive economy and sustainable society.

Up to 12 associates are awarded annually by the academy.

This role, with associated research funding for up to 24 months as well as participation in an international network of DIAs through various events, enables collaborative research that aligns with the RAEng’s strategic priority themes and also contributes to the engineering communities within the DIAs’ home countries.

Smithers’ project as a DIA will focus on modernising flood risk assessment and design practice in South Africa in light of climate change. Building on previous RAEng-funded research, Smithers will work with researchers at the University of Bath and other institutions in the United Kingdom with the aim of contributing to flood risk management, including the design and protection of hydraulic structures such as dams, bridges and drainage systems and accounting for the potential impacts of climate change.

Smithers, who has received several research contracts from the RAEng in the past five years, emphasised the value of this support and the resulting networks created in contributing to information, knowledge, sustainable and innovative engineering solutions in South Africa. Notably, these have focused on local and international collaboration and capacity development for the National Flood Studies Programme (NFSP) in South Africa, and on sustainable food, water and energy security in Africa through support for the Pan African Society for Agricultural Engineering.

‘I am very proud to have received this prestigious recognition from the RAEng and to be able to continue this international research collaboration,’ said Smithers.

The Umgeni Water-funded professorial Chair hosted in the School of Engineering was renewed in April 2021 and is now in a second 10-year cycle funded by Umgeni Water to stimulate research in water resources management and innovation at UKZN. A world-class research group under Smithers’ direction is producing high impact innovative and use-inspired research. This develops water scientists, engineers and researchers to create a growing knowledge economy to meet the challenge of sustainable water resources.

Smithers’ priorities are to build human capital and facilitate the creation of new knowledge and innovative approaches to meet the challenge of increasing demand for water resources through improved water resource infrastructure, management and conservation. This is achieved through excellent undergraduate teaching and research, outreach activities and close collaboration with industry, government, state utilities and research organisations.

Smithers is a registered professional engineer who has earned a variety of plaudits and accolades in his academic career. An alumnus of the former University of Natal, he has taught at the Institution – now UKZN – since 1989 and was appointed Professor of Agricultural Engineering in 2004. He was Head of the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology for nine years and has served on the University’s Senate and on several boards and committees.

He has received numerous awards from UKZN and from industry associations and his international collaborations include an Adjunct Professor appointment in the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia.

He has served the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE) as president, vice-president and continues to serve as a council member.

He was awarded the prestigious SAIAE gold medal in recognition of his significant contributions to and leadership of the institute, and his contributions to the profession of Agricultural Engineering. He is a founding member of the Pan African Society for Agricultural Engineering (PASAE) and currently serves as its Secretary-General.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied