May 13, 2021 SDGs

Time for the water industry to drive change

After an 18-month incubation period due to the global pandemic (only the elephant has a longer gestation period!), I was delighted to take over as President of the IWA in April this year.

I want to acknowledge the outstanding leadership of my French predecessor in the role, Diane D’Arras. Thanks to Diane’s legacy, IWA is in good shape, which is fortunate, given the global water challenges are many and varied.

Water is life – and life on earth is linked to water. I am passionate about the central role played by water and sanitation in the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing of our society.

Our existence is dependent on water, or the lack of it. The importance of safe drinking water has been understood for millennia. And since the 19th century, we have also understood the importance of proper sanitation. The amazing effectiveness of a simple hand washing regime in preventing the spread of deadly disease underscores this point.

However, almost 900 million people in the world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water, while 2.6 billion live without basic sanitation. Across the globe, more than 6,000 people die each day from diseases caused by dirty water. Most disturbingly, two-thirds are children.

When I was growing up in the 1970s there was a television programme in Australia called “the Six Million Dollar Man.” It was about a former astronaut, who suffers terrible injuries in a NASA test flight accident. His superiors do not give up: “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better, than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”

In tackling our water woes, I am confident that we too have the technology to build water back better. But what we lack is the global political will to take hard policy decisions and make the investments that are needed to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Which is where IWA comes in. As a global network of water professionals, we inspire change. Through collaboration, stimulating research and sharing of best practices, we raise the world’s technical and scientific water capital.

Our next challenge, if we are to be truly effective, is for good science to inform policy. If we are to have evidence-based decision making, we must be able to engage with policy makers in ways that they understand; and in ways that will drive change or action on their part.

It is a challenge that excites me! Now, if I could just jump on a plane and zoom over to meet some global leaders. Or does ‘Zoom’ mean something different now?

Tom Mollenkopf AO

Director and Independent Advisor, IWA President and Board Member
Tom Mollenkopf took up the Presidency of the International Water Association in April 2021, having been a Senior Vice-President and a Board Member for seven years. He is an advisor on water sector strategy, policy and governance; a Senior Associate w... Read full biography