How young water professionals view the future of WASH

On 17 February 2021, IWA Young Water Professionals (YWPs) and the Emerging Water Leaders Steering Committee held an online discussion attended by 68 YWPs from around the world to talk about the Future of WASH. They shared challenges, talked about innovations and technologies, as well as best practices and lessons learned in search of sustainable solutions.

The discussion was moderated by Shorato Goto (Consultant, Japan). On the panel were: Farokh Kakar (IWA EWL SC Member, PHD Candidate at Ryerson University & Professor at George Brown College, Canada); Chataigne Djuma K (Student of Science in Agriculture at Kenyatta University, Kenya); Ana Claudia Hafemann (Administrative Director at AGIR, Brazil); and Jacob Amengor (IWA EWL SC Member, Water Quality Supervisor at Ghana Water Company Ltd, Ghana).

The current global WASH context is characterised by major issues. Approximately 2.5 billion people still do not have access to enhanced water and sanitation. This, together with the lack of access to encompassing public health services, raises human right concerns in many low and middle-income countries. Based on this background, challenges and solutions were debated.


Universal access to water and sanitation still presents many challenges, especially in middle- and low-income countries

Having lived in Afghanistan and Canada, Farokh compared her experience in both countries, saying that nowadays many people in the world still face sanitation and hygiene problems, especially in low- and middle-income counties. She believes that access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is a human right and thinks that more needs to be done to widen access. Farokh believes that services tailored around the needs of women and children must be prioritised, since they are the most vulnerable group affected by WASH challenges.

Chataigne talked about the situation of WASH in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Despite governments making big efforts to supply clean water, many people still cannot access enough clean water, and water-borne disease is a frequent issue which happens especially in rural areas. Ana also warned that failing to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services contributes to spreading diseases. She highlighted that WASH is the most important human right and access to clean water should be guaranteed by the regulation of public services.

Jacob talked about the situation of WASH in Ghana, where safe drinking water is often associated with exorbitant costs for a low-income country. He believes that it is very regrettable that due to insufficient financial resources, access to clean water is scarcely granted or not granted at all. Political action, and more financial resources are required to step up efforts in the provision of safe drinking water for all, everywhere.


Innovative technologies for WASH

The incorporation of new technologies is the ideal solution for many WASH issues, however finances remain the biggest problem. Jacob shared his experience on introducing a micro-flush toilet water system in his community, and admitted that, according to his observations, a better solution would be to shift from a centralized to a decentralized system.

Chataigne spoke about innovative wastewater sludge treatments in Senegal. Sludge treatment can minimize wastewater, and can also be used as a source of  electricity, or supply compost for agricultural use. She believes that high costs related to process expansion may be a main obstacle for further implementation in the region.


A collaborative approach based on knowledge-transfer is needed

Farokh discussed a real example of international collaboration between Iran and Afghanistan. She explained that international agreements may offer solutions to address WASH challenges. However, regional collaboration can play an even more valuable role because of the shared context and challenges of the countries in question. In terms of practicality and accessibility, countries can share and implement the same ideas and practical solutions in a more efficient and economical way.

Jacob adds that, however, many African countries often encounter problems related to knowledge-transfer concerning the discovery, development and implementation of new technologies. It is crucial for YWPs to take initiative and be responsible for accelerating and improving knowledge transfer in their countries. In fact, IWA & YWP members can significantly contribute to international collaboration and knowledge-sharing by making use of networking and research opportunities and by taking part in other activities organized by the Association, such as conferences, webinars and more.

Farokh believes that communication is key to a successful collaboration. Sharing knowledge opens the gate for more collaboration and further actions. In addition, understanding the needs and recognising best practices can be facilitated through meetings, conferences, surveys, and research groups.

Finally, Ana pointed out that young people are our hope for the future. Young Water Professionals are responsible for taking action now to solve the WASH problems of tomorrow. Greater investment in young people, research and international cooperation are needed to enable young professionals to achieve a better and more sustainable future for the WASH sector.