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Prof O'Keeffe returns to Rhodes

Date Released: Tue, 12 April 2011 09:04 +0200

Professor Jay O'Keeffe has recently been appointed back to Rhodes after six years as WWF Professor of Freshwater Ecosystems at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Holland. 

He is a Professor attached to the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Development, and a Research Associate at the Environmental Research Learning Centre. Prof O’Keeffe will be contributing to a number of research and consultancy projects, as well as helping with the initiative to establish a UNESCO water institute in Grahamstown.

Prof O'Keeffe was at Rhodes from 1983 to 2004, starting as a post-doc, becoming Director of the Institute for Freshwater Studies, and then becoming a founding member of the present Institute for Water Research, together with Professors Denis Hughes and Tally Palmer, who also recently returned to Rhodes after four years in Australia and a stint at the National Research Foundation in Pretoria respectively.

His main research interests are in rivers, with a particular focus on flow requirements to maintain their ecological functioning, and the resulting goods and services which they provide for people. He and Prof Palmer were both involved in the development of the environmental principles which were included in the 1998 South African Water Act, and he received the Gold Medal of the Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists just before he left to take up his position in Holland.

As WWF Professor at UNESCO, Prof O’Keeffe initiated a series of training and capacity building projects to assess environmental flows in river basins where WWF has teams working. To date, as well as postgraduate courses in Holland, research and training courses have been completed or are in progress in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Bosnia, Turkey, India, Pakistan, China, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. All of this work is based on the scientific developments that were initiated at Rhodes and other South African institutions in the 1980s and 90s - demonstrating just how large a footprint Rhodes has in global water science.

Earlier this year, Prof O'Keeffe developed a paper for UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) focusing on Grahamstown's water supply system. Travel is very much part of his working life: he was in Montserrat (Spain) in March for the annual meeting of DIVERSITAS – a small international group of fresh water scientists – and this week he goes to Vienna to deliver a keynote address at the International Large Rivers Conference, reflecting on the lessons learned from his work with scientific teams on the Yangtze and Yellow (China), Ganga (India) and Sao Francisco (Brazil) Rivers.