River flow champion, Dr Jackie King, wins 2019 Stockholm Water Prize

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Stockholm, Sweden (19 March 2019) – Dr Jackie King is named the 2019 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for her game-changing contributions to global river management. She has advanced the scientific understanding of water flows, giving decision-makers methods and tools to assess the full range of costs and benefits when managing or developing river systems.

Dr King led the early development of the methods as a researcher at the University of Cape Town, funded by South Africa’s Water Research Commission. Later, she and colleagues Dr Cate Brown and Dr Alison Joubert created ecosystem models to demonstrate the ecological and social implications of damming and de-watering rivers. This has enabled objective assessment of the costs of water-resource developments that could emerge linked to benefits such as hydropower and irrigated crops.

On receiving news of the prize, Dr King said: “I find it humbling, energizing and very rewarding. 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.”

Her commitment to raising awareness of the value of rivers and their importance for millions of people has made Dr King highly regarded by academics and water managers globally. In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee notes that “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.” 

Dr King’s early work influenced South Africa’s 1998 National Water Act and is increasingly guiding governments and institutions across the globe. First as a researcher and later as a consultant, she has worked in more than 20 countries and with governments of the Mekong, Zambezi, Indus and Okavango River Basins, among others.

“Governments developing their water resources understand the potential benefits but not necessarily the costs in terms of degrading rivers. We can now show these ecological and social costs at a similar level of detail to the benefits shown by planners. This is a new kind of information, not available until the last few years, that helps governments better understand the trade-offs involved in development as they decide on their preferred future,” she says.

Dr King is clear that governments have the right to decide their own path to development. She strives to support them by providing transparent and accessible information so they can effectively assess their different options.

Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director at SIWI, comments that “Dr King has helped decision-makers understand that healthy river ecosystems are not a luxury, but the basis for sustainable development.”

The Stockholm Water Prize, presented annually since 1991, is the world’s most prestigious water award and honours women, men and organizations who have made extraordinary water-related achievements. All nominations are carefully reviewed by the world-leading water experts of the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee. After the Committee has selected a candidate, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences makes the final decision which is confirmed by the Board of Stockholm International Water Institute.

The prize will be presented to Dr King by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Patron of Stockholm Water Prize, at a Royal Award Ceremony on 28 August, during World Water Week in Stockholm.

The Founders of the Stockholm Water Prize are companies united in their strong conviction to drive sustainability in the water sector. They are Bacardi, Poul Due Jensen Foundation, Ragn-Sells, Water Environment Federation, Xylem and Ålandsbanken.  

More about Dr King 

 Dr King was co-founder of, and Principal Researcher at, the Freshwater Research Unit, University of Cape Town for almost four decades. She is now Extraordinary Professor at the Institute for Water Studies, University of the Western Cape and an independent consultant. As an aquatic ecologist she became influential in the recently-established field of Environmental Flows. Her early research focused on South African rivers but since the 1990s she has moved into advisory work on river systems across Africa and Asia.

Dr King’s work has been recognized with both the Gold and Silver Medals from the Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists and with South Africa’s “Women in Water” Award in the research category. She was also the 2016 recipient of WWF-South Africa’s “Living Planet Award”.  Her academic work includes over 100 refereed items in books, international journals and conference proceedings.  

About Stockholm Water Prize 

The Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1991. It is appointed annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and awarded by SIWI, to an individual, organization or institution for outstanding water-related achievements. H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is patron of the prize. 

Initially founded by the Stockholm Water Foundation to encourage research and development of the world’s water environment, the Stockholm Water Prize is supported by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, International Water Association, Water Environment Federation and the City of Stockholm. The Founders of the Stockholm Water Prize are companies united in their strong conviction to drive sustainability in the water sector. They are Bacardi, Poul Due Jensen Foundation, Ragn-Sells, Water Environment Federation, Xylem and Ålandsbanken.  

About SIWI  

SIWI is an international water institute, leveraging its knowledge and convening power to strengthen water governance for a just, prosperous, and sustainable future. SIWI focuses on a range of research and development topics within and around water that support decision-makers. Other important activities include World Water Week (the world’s leading annual water event), the Stockholm Water Prize (the most prestigious water award), and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize that fosters future generations of water excellence.

Emma King