Denmark delivers: a huge success in Copenhagen

Spectacular entertainment during the Opening Ceremony from the Copenhagen Drummers © IWA

Erika Yarrow-Soden gives a view on some of the highlights of what has been heralded as IWA’s most successful Congress & Exhibition to date.

With record delegate numbers, impressive participation, and a comprehensive programme with numerous new features, IWA’s World Water Congress & Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 11-15 September has been heralded as the Association’s most successful held to date. This alone is enough for it to be a memorable event, but what will remain with attendees will be the passion and commitment of their fellow water professionals who were brought together by the Congress, and the palpable conviction that water professionals can be agents of change who can transform lives and the environment through innovation and collaboration.

Having attended many conferences in the sector over more than two decades, this is the first time I’ve seen a keynote speaker move the audience to tears before receiving a standing ovation – as happened during the presentation of Dr Inês Breda, of Eurowater and secretary of the IWA Young Water Professionals steering committee.

There was an excited buzz around the Bella Center venue across the five days of Congress, and an energy about the timeliness of this gathering of leading water experts, and the capacity of IWA to facilitate the demanding but necessary dialogues required if we are to take meaningful action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals amid the challenges of a turbulent climate.

With the Congress built around the underlying theme of ‘Water for smart liveable cities’, Denmark was a perfect location, and Copenhagen a visionary choice of city host, surrounded by water and embodying the Danish philosophy of holistic, smart water management to empower cities to adapt to climate change, while improving the quality of life and wellbeing of its citizens.

The Congress opening ceremony featured a keynote speech by Professor Jason Box on ‘Rapid Arctic climate change and water issues around the world’. A research professor with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Box has studied the Greenland ice sheet since 1994. His fascinating address highlighted the severity of the impacts of climate change and the speed at which these dramatic changes are occurring. Delegates were left under no illusions as to the urgency and dedication that will be required to manage water in an already testing climate. This keynote threw down the gauntlet, and delegates were stirred into action with a rousing performance by the Copenhagen Drummers.

The Congress is the occasion at which IWA reveals the winners of its prestigious awards programme, including its main awards, as well as its Outstanding Service Award, Honorary Membership, IWA Publishing Award, IWA Publishing ‘Best Scientific Book’ Award, new Fellows, and Distinguished Fellows.

“Business as usual is not an option if we are to achieve the SDGs and climate targets. We have an opportunity to start here and now, today!”
Joakim Harlin, UNEP

The outstanding winners announced during the opening ceremony were: Nisha Mandani, Our Aim Foundation, USA, for the Global Water Award; Annabell Waititu, Big Five Africa, Kenya, for the Gender Diversity and Water Award; Céline Vaneeckhaute, Université Laval, Canada, for the Young Leadership Award; Professor Damir Brdjanovic, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands, for the Water and Development Award for Research; and Africa Sand Dam Foundation, Kenya, for the Water and Development Award for Practice.

Other important announcements made during the opening ceremony included the creation of an endowment fund for young water leaders, supported by founding donors Glen and Patty Daigger; and the announcement of funding supported by Grundfos for young water professionals to participate in the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York.

High-level summit

This Congress was the first in which IWA held a High-Level Summit, connecting leading figures from the water sector with national and city politicians, including those from Copenhagen, Denmark; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and Tshwane, South Africa; around the theme of water as a key to action on climate and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Joakim Harlin, director of the Freshwater Ecosystems Unit, United Nations Environment Programme, set the tone for the Summit with a call to action, stating: “We cannot afford to wait. The time to act is now. Policymakers must put water at the heart of action plans, and everyone has a role to play Business as usual is not an option if we are to achieve the SDGs and climate targets. We have an opportunity to start here and now, today!”

Forums and features

Forums were a key component of the event, featuring the SG Leaders Forum, the Groundwater Forum (see box), the Emerging Water Leaders Forum, the Industrial Water Users Forum, the Utility Leaders Forum, the Water Regulators Forum, Business Forums, and the PrimeWater meeting, which explored how Earth Observation technology is being applied across the water sector and in the framework of the PrimeWater H2020 project.

The Congress also hosted a black-tie ceremony, sponsored by SWCC, to reveal and celebrate the winners of the IWA Project Innovation Awards (PIA). The six category Gold Award winners were: PUB (Market-changing Water Technology and Infrastructure); Jacobs (Performance Improvement and Operational Solutions); Montclair State University (Breakthroughs in Research and Development); Keppel Seghers (Exceptional Project Execution and Delivery); CETAQUA (Governance, Institutions and Social Enterprise); and Xylem Inc. (Smart Systems and the Digital Water Economy).

The overall Grand Innovation Award 2022 was presented to Keppel Seghers for the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant (KMEDP) in Singapore, which features a design where water treatment processes are situated underground.

“With an excellent level of participation and many innovations in the programme, we can regard Copenhagen as our most successful World Water Congress & Exhibition yet, all built around the important theme of ‘Smart Liveable Cities’”
Kizito Masinde, Congress Director

Looking forward to 2024

The Congress also provided a platform for several signings of MoUs, cementing IWA’s commitment to collaboration. These included those with the Nature Conservancy, the Water Authority of Fiji, and the African Water Association.

The Congress ended with a thought-provoking closing ceremony, featuring the Poul Harremoёs Lecture by Professor Wolfgang Rauch, a celebration of the results of the IWA Climate Smart Utilities Recognition Programme for 2022, and an announcement of the winners of the best poster awards – which went to: Mitthan Lal Kansal of IIT Roorkee, India; Sudhir Pillay of Water Research Commission, South Africa; and Taku Matsushita, Hokkaido University, Japan. This was all followed by a spectacular Gala Dinner. This may have marked the end of the event, but it also marked the start for the energised participants to begin the work of building on all that was shared and achieved. We look forward to joining with members at the next IWA World Water Summit & Exhibition in Toronto in August 2024. •


Recognising excellence

In addition to IWA’s Project Innovation Awards (see main text and here), the following water professionals were recognised at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition.

Global Water Award:
Nisha Mandani, Our AIM Foundation, USA

Gender and Diversity Award:
Annabell Waititu, Bigfive Africa Ltd., Kenya

Young Leadership Award:
Céline Vaneeckhaute, Université Laval, Canada

Development Award for Research:
Prof. Damir Brdjanovic, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Netherlands

Development Award for Practice:
Africa Sand Dam Foundation, Kenya.

Outstanding Service Award:
Eveline Volcke
Jurg Keller

Honorary Membership:
Helena Alegre
Joan Rose
Gerard Payen
Diane d’Arras (who has joined the Presidential Roll of Honour as a Past-President of the Association)

IWA Publishing Award 2022:
Professor Chong-Yu Xu, Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Norway

IWA Publishing 2022 ‘Best Scientific Book’:
Biological Wastewater Treatment, Second Edition, edited by Guanghao Chen, Mark van Loosdrecht, George Ekama and Damir Brdjanovic

Distinguished Fellows 2022:
Helena Alegre
Jaime Baptista
Juan Lema
Rao Surampalli
Eveline Volcke
Aijie Wang
Min Yang

Fellows 2022:
Annalisa Contos
Taku Fujiwara
Rosina Girones
Oliver Grievson
Jeroen Langeveld
Jun Ma
Ed McCormick
Jennifer McKay
Rajiv Mittal
Banu Ormeci
Barth Smets
Zhiwei Wang
Gary Wyeth
Viviane Yargeau
Xingcan Zheng

IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2022 in numbers

Around 9000 participants from 102 countries 400 Oral presentations
500+ Poster presentations
300+ Exhibitors
160 Technical sessions and Workshops

Groundwater Forum signals consensus

The Copenhagen Congress featured a Groundwater Forum on the opening day, organised by the Capital Region of Denmark, ATV Soil and Groundwater and the IWA Groundwater Management Specialist Group (SG), with a workshop organised by the SG on the following day.

The Forum unanimously agreed on the critical importance of groundwater resources to enhance human water-supply security in the context of climate change adaptation. It was also clear during discussions that the agenda for action to secure groundwater sustainability divides markedly between developing countries/cities and those in the developed world, calling for a ‘twin-track’ approach.

The Forum and workshop were designed to develop consensus, and this has contributed to the preparation of a framework for the global diagnosis of urban groundwater management needs in a changing world.

By Stephen Foster, Radu Gogu, Ida Holm Olesen and Anders Bækgaard

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