The 26th AGM of the International Tunnelling Association (ITA) was officially opened by Vincent Bath, chief executive, at Rand Water, on May 15 in Durban, South Africa.

In an upbeat and optimistic atmosphere, Bath addressed a crowd of some 350 international delegates and expressed his gratitude for the political change that made holding the conference in SA possible.

Bath paid tribute to the hard work of the South African National Council on Tunnelling (SANCOT) for ensuring that SA becomes a focal point on the international tunnelling map. Bath referred to the tunnelling fraternity of SA, saying: "We’ re scientists and engineers, not politicians."

In his welcoming speech, Jim McKelvey, chairman of the congress organising committee and president of SANCOT, introduced Dr Alfred Haak, president of the ITA who consolidated the optimistic mood with his vision of tunnelling in the future. Haak focused on the World Commission Urban 21 report that envisages a world by 2025 with 100 mega cities with 90 per cent of the population living in urban areas by the end of the century.

"Widespread underground construction will be a necessity," he said.

Haak also informed the assembly of the association of the ITA with three new member nations, Malaysia, Argentina and Israel.

The conference "Tunnels under pressure" covered such topics as deep level tunnels in high stress regions (like those found in South African gold mines) to tunnels facing pressures from environmental, contractual, financial and political issues.