The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Water Under the Bridge

Stockholm yesterday celebrated 20 years of the Stockholm Water Prize.  Over the past twenty years something that started as a rather modest event – inspired by the abundance of water in and around the country’s capital – has morphed into a major international event.  As it has done so the Stockholm Water Week has gained a global reputation as a leading forum for the examination of issues around the management and sustainability of water.  The theme of this year’s event was Water Quality. The intention was to deepen understanding of the challenges related to water quality and to stimulate ideas and engage teh water commuity around these.

So what’s the challenge all about?  The truth is that demographic change and rapid economic growth – particularly urbanisation – means that water is increasingly withdrawn, used, reused, treated, and disposed of.  The combination of rising population and higher concentration of people in urban areas is driving a real increase in the need for water for agriculture and industry while climate change is reducing the availability of water in many population centres, exerting mounting pressure on both the quantity and quality of our water resources. This combination has big implications for human health, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and, human security more generally.

The water pollution challenge is one that confronts many corners of our fragile earth and water pollution is in fact on the rise globally while an estimated two million tonnes of human waste are disposed of in watercourses every day. Seventy percent of industrial wastes in developing countries are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply. Lack of monitoring and enforcement also makes it difficult for countries and regions to understand and deal with this challenge.

So the Water Week was a big and important opportunity to bring the world’s experts together to drive forward ideas and partnerships.  The centrepiece of the Water Week was the presentation of the Water Prize to Dr Rita Colwell, Professor from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, whose pioneering research on the prevention of waterborne infectious diseases has helped protect the health and lives of millions. Dr Colwell’s work on the control the spread of cholera, a waterborne disease that infects 3 to 5 million people and leads to an estimated 120,000 deaths each year, brought into focus the pressing need to combat the problem of water quality, a challenge that is particularly relevant just now as Pakistan faces the challenge of preventing widespread disease after the floods in the country over the past month.

My personal highlights from the week included renewing old acquaintances with two former British winners, Professor Tony Allan (on whom I blogged last week) and Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid, a truly great British NGO.  It was also immense fun to meet the Junior Prize winners and, in particular, the highly impressive British finalist, Simon Crowther who worked up through his GCSE studies an idea for combating domestic flooding.  As his proud Dad said last night, we hope to see Simon here again in two years with his A Level version!

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