Honouring IWA’s Distinguished Pioneers and
Their Legacies in the IWA history

The new International Water Association
(2000 to 2010)

By Paul Reiter and Gustaf Olsson

The history of the creation and development of the IWA, following the merger of IWSA and IAWQ, can be found in Part Two the history document covering IWSA, IAWQ and IWA over the period 1947-2015.  It is available online as https://iwa-network.org/iwahistory/

What this introduction to the newly formed IWA Part One 2000-2010 uniquely focusses on, is the people who were instrumental in making it possible to move the new IWA from a wish to a reality in the first decade of its life.

Unlike the introductions to IWSA (1947-1999) and IAWPR->IAWQ (1962-1999), where most of the main characters in the history are deceased (and are accordingly now regarded as IWA “Distinguished Pioneers”), most of the main characters in the history of the newly formed IWA presented below are thankfully still alive, although many would be accorded an “emeritus” status today.

A New Association in the Making

In 2000, IWA in its formation, had the advantages of many “new world” countries in their respective formation.  It had a wealth of institutional structures and leaders to draw-on from its “parents”, IWSA and IAWQ.  At the same time however, it was free to chart its own course anew, and invent or revise new structures to suit its objectives.

However, more than 35 years of predecessor history (50 years in the case of IWSA) would seem to argue against a rethinking of some version of the predecessors’ basic templates in forming the new IWA.  Yet that rethinking is exactly that happened in the case of the new IWA.

How did this happen?  As a major participant in the process and a first-hand observer, Paul Reiter believes it was largely because of the extraordinary people who led the new IWA.

In the critical early years 2001-2004, the key transitional period between the old and the new, these extraordinary people included IWA leaders/Presidents Piet Odendaal and Vincent Bath, Norihito Tambo, and Michael Rouse.  Also included in this list is Tony Milburn, who realized that major change was in the making in 2000, and both played a significant role in enabling the pivotal 2001 Windsor meeting to happen and afterward, gave Paul Reiter the latitude to turn all that was learned into IWA’s first four-year strategic plan.

All the specialist group (SG) chairmen met in Windsor. This was a crucial event to strengthen the SG development and quality control. Later, the SG leaders have met at all the following Biennial Congresses. This has markedly contributed to maintain high quality of specialist conferences as well as a sound SG management. Even the issue of eliminating inactive SGs was solved. Already in Windsor it was discussed how to enhance co-operation between SGs for conferences, which has resulted in many joint events. This thinking had been raised by Poul Harremoes and was strongly supported after the merger.

In retrospect, the 2001 Windsor meeting, involving almost all of the different leaders and interests of the two predecessor organizations, proved to be the decisive step in laying the foundations for a “blended culture” of members and their historical ways of working.  It also provided the foundation for IWA’s first, four-year Strategic Plan for 2002-2006 as well as a 20-year IWA vision.  This plan included restructuring working groups and the governance of the new IWA, in a manner different from that envisioned in the merger talks.

As the new IWA got rolling, a host of other senior leaders from both the predecessor organizations played key roles.  A partial list of them and their contributions (most are Distinguished Fellows) include: Jerry Gilbert for encouraging me to move to London to help getting IWA on its feet and for financing the post-merger period; David Garman on his vision for a regionalized new IWA and for insuring a successful 2002 WWC in Melbourne;  Harro Bode for crucial help in establishing the new Water Utilities Leader Forum, and navigating the 2001 Berlin WWC;   Wolfgang Merkel and Helmut Kroiss for overseeing the transition of the WWC programs development;  Gerard Payen for greatly helping to guide IWA’s vision and in putting in place IWA’s new Strategic Council. And it’s obvious that there many more stories that are beyond the scope of this introduction.

From the effort, vision and knowledge of all these people, the new IWA that emerged over these crucial first few years was an organization that embraced a bold, yet pragmatic view of itself as a global voice and vehicle for water professionals.  An organization that was capable of supporting the rapidly changing needs of an urbanizing planet, building on over 50 years of collaboration involving top professionals in both research and practice around the world.

To enable this ambition, IWA constructed a new, member-centric governance structure, and sought to create a portfolio of mechanisms for members to continue the scientific and technical path underway for more than 50 years.  At the same time, IWA developed new mechanisms for member collaboration on addressing new highly integrated problems like climate changes adaptation, water and health, and novel sanitation systems in low-income countries.

To put all of this off required a courageous and talented set of presidents.  As mentioned, they included Piet Odendahl and Vincent Bath who presided over the transition through late 2001, Norihito Tambo (2001-mid 2003), and Michael Rouse (mid 2003 -late 2004).

The External Environment

The early years of the new IWA coincidentally marked a period of extraordinary change in the external world affecting IWA.  First was the accession of new countries to the EU including Poland, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and later Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.   Helmut Kroiss, Jiri Wanner, Hans Sailer, and Walter Kling were exceptionally helpful in getting IWA ready to open up these new frontiers.

Second, was the concomitant “coming of age” of the EU as a strong force in environmental policy making regulation and programmatic activities – all of which had a significant positive impact on IWA and its members.  Out of this process emerged the EU Framework Directive in 2000 and the EU Technology Platform, ideal entry points for IWA and its many European members, in particular Andrea Tilche.  IWA played an important formal role in the Platform’s development through Mike Farrimond, Paul Reiter, and key members of the Global Water Research Coalition.

Third, was the emergence of The People Republic of China as an eager participant in IWA.  They proposed and were chosen to host the 2006 WWC in Beijing.  This Congress marked the beginning of a huge expansion in Chinese member participation in IWA – an expansion that has continued over many years.   IWA Presidents Tambo and Rouse, as well as Xiaochang Wang were essential individuals in helping IWA figure out how to work in this new environment.

The preparation and conduct of the 2006 Beijing WWC also helped to stimulate concomitant interest on the East Asia and Pacific Region, the regional development of which had been spearheaded in the 1970’s and 1980’s by IWSA President Ishibashi, and IAWPRC President Sumotomo.  Under the leadership of IWA President Tambo (2001-2002), the ASPIRE regional group and conference series were implemented in 2005.  In parallel to these events, a strong relationship between the Singapore PUB and IWA developed, leading to the joint development of the IWA-PUB Conference series as part of the creation of the Singapore Water Week in 2005.  Shortly thereafter, in conjunction with PUB and the ASPIRE leadership, IWA’s first Asian office was established in Singapore in 1997 under the direction of Ryan Yuen.

In 2001, the UN’s adopted the 2015 Millenium Development goal of a 50% reduction in the number of people without access to safe drinking water compared to a bseline measure.  From a water and development perspective, this action framed world-wide action towards meeting this goal and had a profound impact on the IWA relationship with external agencies in the UN family (WHO, UNDP, UNESCO) and with the World Bank.  In this context, Jan Janssen, John Briscoe and Piers Cross from the World Bank (Briscoe and Cross are both IWA DPs) were instrumental in facilitating IWA’s meaningful contributions to this and other development efforts.

The later development of the biennial IWA Development Congress (WCDE) in 2009 in Mexico City, was a direct result of this initial thought process – an initiative that in execution, owes a great deal of thanks to Bianca Jimenez.

The Second Half of the Decade

In its second four-year plan strategic plan (2006-2010), IWA was on a solid foundation and greatly benefited from President Garman’s leadership and experience.

At this point, IWA could look to expand its programmatic offerings, and at the same time, enhance its linkages with external partners, like the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), regional banks (ADB and IADB) and other international NGOs (IUCN, ISMAE).

IWA had a solid string of very successful World Water Congresses during this time, including the Beijing WWC in 2006 (Baoxing – Congress President), the Vienna WWC in 2008 (Kling -Congress President) and the 2010 Montreal WWC in 2010 (Jones – Congress President).

In 2006, the opportunity arose to consider moving IWA’s operational hub from central London to Den Haag in The Netherlands.  After careful consideration by the staff and the Board of Director, the decision was taken to accept the Netherland’s offer of support and enthusiasm for a new operational hub in the Hague.  This moved, managed by Ed Hulshof, now an IWA DP, proved to be financially advantageous for both IWA and the affected staff, and provided a new venue for IWA, on the European continent and closer to the where the majority of its members lived and worked.

In parallel to the aforementioned actions, the IWA Fellows Programme was created within IWA at this time, with significant leadership from Helmut Kroiss, Gustaf Olsson and Glen Daigger.  This creation of the Fellows Group was a very significant step in recognizing the years of dedicated service and continuing contributions of IWA’s most outstanding members.  In later years, the Fellows Program subsumed the Council of Distinguished Water Professionals as the IWA Distinguished Fellows Group, and yet later in 2023, the IWA Distinguished Pioneers were linked into the Fellows Program.

Topically speaking, among others, the Cities of the Future and the Smart Water Utilities programs were created, consistent with the vision underlying the merger.  In parallel, efforts were undertaken to link related Special Groups into topical clusters, spearheaded by the bio-cluster chair, Mark von Loosdrecht with major support from Helmut Kroiss.

At the end of the Montreal WWC in 2010, IWA celebrated its 10th Anniversary.  What a decade!

Distinguished Pioneers – Presidents

President: 2001-2003 Norihito Tambo

Distinguished Pioneers

Piers Cross

Tony Millburn

Ed Hulshof