How do international events help the next generation of advocates for water change?

Clockwise from top left: Emily Ryan, Omi Kumari, Dr Pabel Cervantes-Avilés, John Fisher Sekabira, Dr Christopher DeGroot and Zoë Cuthbert

Views from a panel involved with IWA’s Young Water Professionals/Emerging Water Leaders events and activities. How can international events help shape thinking at the national level? How does this help the next generation of advocates for water change?


Emily Ryan

Service Planning Analyst, Sydney Water, Australia

Secretary, IWA Emerging Water Leaders

In September of 2018, I had the privilege of attending my first international conference Ð the IWA World Water Congress and Exhibition in Tokyo. Up until that point, I had been lucky enough to attend a number of Australian conferences. While these were a great opportunity to learn about the world-class work being done here in Australia, attending the IWA Congress fundamentally shifted my perspective on the water industry, particularly when looking at water through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At the Tokyo Congress, the goals provided a shared language for discussing how water utility professionals can drive action in the water-energy nexus. I was able to relate my work at the time to initiatives under way through the WaCCLiM project in Thailand, France, and North America. Hearing the experiences of other utilities, removed from the Australian context, allowed me to reframe my position on different topics, and think more creatively on how we can work towards achieving or even surpassing the targets set in SDGs 7 and 13.

More recently, at the International Young Water Professionals Conference in Toronto, workshopping of challenges related to urban resilience for other global cities helped me to integrate new aspects of resilience into water resources planning I was undertaking back at work. Once again, the SDGs provided a shared language that meant I could relate the outcomes of the conversations directly to projects where I was considering infrastructure resilience (using the targets set under SDG 11).

These two experiences are just a snapshot of the kind of value that can be created and captured through gaining an international perspective. I hope that the shared language of the SDGs helps others to connect more effectively at future IWA events too. There are also opportunities being shaped by the YWP-led SDG Taskforce (see IWA Connect), where case studies can be shared and conversations continued.

Omi Kumari

Research Associate, Indian Institute of Management, Kashipur, India

A fast-growing population and high quantity of effluent pose a severe threat to the water security of India. We face considerable drought, flood and pollution throughout the country. The climate change protest in 2019 in India has brought this issue to the fore, and it is an alarming concern among the youth of our nation.

The unplanned mushrooming of buildings, lack of clear guidelines, and weak policy implementation in the country are primary reasons underpinning the pollution and scarcity of water. Ecosensitive regions need to be saved, and the essential recommendations from reports need to be realised immediately as an initial step to curb climatic stress in the country. Several cases are pending in the High Courts and Supreme Court of India because of weak and unclear policies for water extraction.

As an advocate of water change for my country, I feel the participation of young people will have a high impact on water governance. There is an urgent need for implementation of policies, and this will only come if we ask for it. I see this coming in the Indian context, and I believe that in the forthcoming year Indian youths will surely ask for the protection of water resources from our government.

Exposure to international experience and thinking helps. It is my understanding that there is a need for the proper synthesis of laws and policies for full control over the water sector, in which a local body should govern it under the observation of the judiciary system.

I also see a need for international collaboration with the Indian government on the construction of sewage treatment plants, for example, which requires substantial capital investment.

I embrace IWA’s efforts to bring Young Water Professionals together, participating in the Water and Development Congress or organising YWP Conferences, and the online dialogues on water-related issues, which reach out to more people.

Dr Pabel Cervantes-Avilés

Professor, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Puebla, Mexico

Attending IWA Specialist Group conferences is really exciting. You can expect to have your vision renovated after interacting with recognised senior professionals, who share the most advanced findings. But as a participant of the International Young Water Professional Conference (IYWPC) in 2014, 2017 and 2019, I can say these are fantastic! The ice-breaking atmosphere and the non-traditional approaches – allowing you to be heard, receive feedback, and be updated on multiple topics by diverse people from around the world – make this conference a unique experience for looking at global water issues.

Technological innovation to assure high-quality water in a cost-effective way, and non-conventional schemes to ensure better results in high-level decisions related to water management, are two of the most common areas that the YWP community discusses.

Ensuring water quality and sanitation are still underdeveloped activities in Mexico. Although more than 90% of the municipal wastewater is collected, only 54% of it passes through a wastewater treatment system. There are concerns about the quality of receiving water bodies, because of irrigation use and direct human contact. Furthermore, considerations about safe water for human health need to include potential and future drinking water sources, which therefore need protection.

In order to bring cost-effectiveness to technology alternatives and to make strategic decisions, regional and local needs regarding water quality and sanitation should be considered, taking in wider lessons.

Approaches that can contribute to achieving SDG 6 in Mexico include connecting suitable sustainable technology for a specific water quality issue on a case-by-case basis, and enhancing the process of decision-making for water management. These approaches are discussed in depth at IYWP Conferences, providing access to shared and feasible aspects from several regions of the world.

Zoë Cuthbert

Global Best Practice Programme Manager, Expo 2020, Dubai, UAE

My involvement with IWA events has included planning of the Emerging Leaders Water Forum at the IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Working with IWA members from around the world to organise this session was a privilege and provided useful insight, learning about the different approaches to managing water resources from both technical and political perspectives. Such events help promote the cross-pollination of ideas between water professionals and spotlight solutions.

I see that one of the most important topics on which to get an international perspective is the different way people view and value water. Although this is not the most technical issue, cooperation and good governance between different stakeholders often begins by having a shared understanding about the importance of finite water resources. Facilitating conversations about how people view water resources and sharing best practices on water governance could promote international cooperation and better management.

I come from Scotland. Despite the abundance of water resources there, the value of water can often be underestimated and overlooked. One of the most significant shifts to do with the way in which water resources are viewed and managed came in 2010, when the Scottish Government announced its intention to develop Scotland as the world’s first ‘Hydro Nation’. This sets challenges in terms of promoting the sustainable use of water resources, while also changing social outlooks about the value of water to the Scottish economy.

Nations can, and must, continue to learn from one another through sharing effective solutions and best practices. As an example, the Hydro Nation International Programme is collaborating with other countries and sharing knowledge to grow the international water economy. This collaboration includes Scottish practitioners working with legislators in Malawi and India.

Dr Christopher DeGroot

Assistant Professor, Western University, Canada

Programme Committee Chair, International YWP Conference 2019

When it comes to water, an international perspective is essential in order to understand the different types of problems that can be experienced and how they are handled by the local populations experiencing them.

If a particular region is experiencing an emerging water issue, chances are there is another region that is already dealing with it. It is important to share this first-hand knowledge and experience. International IWA events are ideal venues to facilitate such sharing of ideas to help spread water knowledge and innovation across the globe.

Canada is a nation that is rich in fresh water; in fact, it contains 7% of the world’s renewable fresh water supply while only 0.5% of the world’s population. Based on this, one might assume that Canada does not have any problems supplying clean water to its citizens. However, despite its vast water resources, Canada cannot avoid these issues. In particular, many of Canada’s indigenous communities are at high risk for contamination of their water supply. There are more than 150 indigenous communities with drinking water advisory notices, some of which have been in place for more than 20 years.

The United Nations has declared “the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.” It is, therefore, quite unfortunate that many indigenous communities do not currently have this access. Canada is a developed nation with the means to correct this situation, but it has so far only implemented partial solutions that do not address the root of this water crisis.

An international perspective, such as those that can be attained at international IWA events, is crucial, since similar issues are also being faced in other parts of the world.

John Fisher Sekabira

Head, Digital and Marketing, National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), Uganda

Vice Chair IWA Emerging Water Leaders

International events are important for me as they provide an opportunity to get an international perspective about the SDGs. We should share perspectives on the progress in our countries, the challenges being faced, and the technology being put in place to achieve the SDGs.

I come from a continent where achieving the SDGs is still a dream. Young Water Professionals (YWPs) have a role to play in realising this dream. I am excited to discuss this and get other perspectives from other countries as means of knowledge sharing.

I have come to realise that most of the challenges where I come from require collaboration and collective efforts of all stakeholders. We can think in terms of the various generations: Traditionalists/Silent Generation (born 1945 and before); Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964); Generation X (1965-1976); Millennials/Gen Y (1977-1995); and Gen Z/iGen/Centennials (1996-tbd). However, we are all living in the same time, facing the same challenges, and are bound to face even more challenges in the future.

What we need is for the YWPs, senior water professionals, and other sector players to have a well thought-through transition between generations. Senior professionals should have the confidence that the future of the sector is in the right hands. The young people should also be confident that the senior professionals are putting in vast efforts to secure the future. The need to bridge the generations and ideas is paramount, to create a problem-solving ‘information hub’.

Each day, the world is transitioning. We need to bridge the idea of researchers, governments, collaborators, parastatals, and so on, and join efforts to tackle challenges being experienced now and those that are ahead of us.

In Uganda, we are trying to do this and we have support from the government, from the utility – NWSC, senior professionals, and the YWPs, who are making a difference as we prepare to tackle the emerging challenges.