Rhodes University’s Professor Denis Hughes was awarded the 2016 International Hydrology Prize of IAHS/WMO/UNESCO: Volker Medal, on 15 June in Paris, France, for his efforts to bring water to sub-Saharan Africa. The Volker medal is aimed at outstanding applications of hydrological science for the benefit of society at large. He is recognised for his outstanding contributions and leadership in the fields of hydrological modelling and water resources assessment, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
“This is deserved recognition of the reputation that Prof. Hughes has earned as an eminent hydrologist who is doing research that competes on an international stage. We are incredibly proud of Prof. Hughes for his outstanding achievements. He is a past recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award for his pioneering research that addresses water challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is our most critical resource. He is most-deserving of this award,” shared Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela.
In 2012, Prof. Hughes received the Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Senior Research Award for his contributions to research and post-graduate development.
Hughes is part of the Institute for Water Research (IWR) and was instrumental in joining the HRU with the then Institute for Freshwater Studies to form the Institute for Water Research (IWR) in 1991. The IWR became a multi-disciplinary research institute focusing on hydrology, freshwater ecology and environmental water quality, which has recently branched out into transdisciplinary water resources science.
The development of the science of hydrology in sub-Saharan Africa was always a dominant driving force for Hughes, as evidenced by his 40 plus publications over this period. Following, 2005, he placed a stronger emphasis on the development of post-graduate students and this part of the Institute’s work was enhanced through the successful bid for funds to participate in the Carnegie Foundation RISE (Regional Initiative in Science Education) programme through Sub-Saharan Africa Water Resources Network (SSAWRN – including institutions in Botswana, Mozambique and Uganda) of which Prof. Hughes is the Academic Director. This programme has been funded for nine years and has graduated approximately 15 PhD’s and 12 MSc’s. The students who have been supervised by Prof. Hughes come from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. These contributions are significant in a region where there are relatively few research hydrologists available to provide supervision support for post-graduate research studies.
He has made a long-term contribution to the improved application of hydrological (rainfall-runoff) models in the diverse climate conditions of sub-Saharan Africa, including semi-arid areas and areas with extremely sparse data. Hughes has developed and made improvements to an existing and widely used rainfall run-off model (the ‘Pitman’ model) to ensure that it can simulate a wide range of possible conditions and to align the model to our understanding of catchment scale hydrological processes. He has also developed a range of methods to determine the environmental flow requirements of rivers, some of which have been applied in many different parts of the world.
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