‘What I learnt from the World Water Week 2018 conference’

'What I learnt from the World Water Week 2018 conference'
Photo: Farjana Bilkis
SI Scholars Farjana Bilkis and Gasper Choonya share their insights from the World Water Week 2018 conference hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Farjana Bilkis, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

As one of the world’s leading water institutes, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) pushes forward the development of innovative and scientifically-based solutions to water-related challenges. World Water Week is a unique conference focused on sharing learnings and taking action towards water-related issues by bringing together scientific research with policy-makers to develop concrete solutions for a better future.

Photo: Farjana Bilkis (left) and fellow SI Scholars

This year, I had the opportunity to join the World Water Week conference gathering 3,600 participants from over 135 different countries in Stockholm. The conference was most definitely one of the highlights of my year where I learnt about implementing solutions to one of the biggest challenges of our time.

During the whole week, there was a great number of seminars, events and exhibition booths showcasing organisations from many different countries. I gained insights from speakers whose experience and expertise were at the very heart of the conference and formed the basis of debates in the following days. The conference was also a great way to network at social events.

Photo: World Water Week 2018 conference venue

The World Water Week 2018 conference was an excellent opportunity to learn and network as an NFGL member: from attending seminars and exhibitions about ecosystems and human development to networking with leaders and experienced professionals. The conference opened my eyes to opportunities in facing water-related challenges.

Gasper Choonya, University of Gävle

At a time when Sweden was experiencing the impact of climate change with insufficient rainfall and wildfires ravaging forests, the World Water Week conference launched at an unfortunate but fitting time. Coming from a part of the world where water is a scarce commodity, I felt compelled to attend this conference which focused on water, ecosystems and human development with speakers and organisations laying bare many issues regarding water and sanitation.

Photo: Gasper Choonya at the World Water Week conference

Did you know that around 2.1 and 4.5 billion people globally are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, respectively? In her speech, the UN Deputy General Secretary H.E. Amina J. Mohammed called for a change of attitude from “business as usual” to immediate action. The implementation of different policies and technological solutions aimed at increasing water security must be at the top of the global agenda. She reiterated the importance of innovation, research and stronger partnerships to improve the provision of water supply and sanitation.

The importance of water can never be overemphasised. The supply of safe drinking water to many communities around the world is faced with challenges including a lack of political decisions to invest in water and sanitation infrastructure, lack of funds for investment and technical expertise, wasteful human behaviour and natural disasters to mention just a few.

Opening session of World Water Week

Many speakers alluded to the critical role water plays in human development. Overwhelming evidence from around the globe shows that the lack of adequate water supply threatens food security, increases hunger and poverty, affects health and widens the gender equality gap. For example, the effects of inadequate water supply related to menstrual hygiene issues in many rural communities has compelled the UNICEF and other organisations to confront the taboo head-on. It was reported that progress has been made in this area in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Malawi and Zambia. Discussing menstruation publicly was a slightly unsettling yet fascinating topic to tackle considering that in my culture and many others, the subject is treated as a private matter. The water issue cannot wait for taboos to be tackled.

The conference ended but one thought lingered in my mind “Action! Action! And urgent action!”

Dr Luther King Jr once said: “The time is always ripe to do the right thing”. There is a part we can all play in the water and sanitation business. The water sector in your home country requires your expertise. Whether as an entrepreneur, researcher, engineer, innovator or policy maker, water is everyone’s business, so let’s manage it together. Let's dare to act.


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