Shaping a Water Future for All

Global demographic and economic trends present opportunities to ‘get it right’ on water and sanitation. This challenges all those with a professional interest in water to innovate and connect to a wider world.

The new IWA Strategic Plan establishes a clear vision of a world in which water is wisely managed to satisfy the needs of human activities and ecosystems in an equitable and sustainable way. The IWA’s members work towards that vision on a daily basis, but the size of the challenges in many of places requires un-imagined transformations in water management.

The scene setting keynote speech of Hans Rosling at the recent IWA World Water Congress, set out some of the key issues facing water professionals. It not only presented past demographic and health data in a new way, it also provided a glimpse of what is to come. The future we are shaping will take place in a world with fewer and fewer divisions between poor and rich nations. By 2050 we will live in a more homogeneous world, with the vast majority of people living in Asia in middle-income countries. Most of these people will have access to basic water and sanitation services.

Approximately 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, and rapid urbanisation will mean higher demand for services and infrastructure; but this also presents an opportunity to deliver smart water and sanitation solutions focused on concentrated urban populations. We should meet the growing needs with solutions that are more efficient, more resilient and provide cost savings for governments, water utilities and end users.

There is no doubt: the narrowing of the income gap between developed and emerging economies, rising populations, rapid urbanisation, changing lifestyles and consumption patterns, create significant challenges for the water sector. Yet these challenges are a chance to implement new technologies and best practices, and to innovate towards a sustainable water future.

A tremendous effort will be required to ensure water efficiency and water quality are at the level to deliver on the expectations of billions of people. This can only be achieved through increasing the robustness, resilience and adaptive capacities of our water systems. To get there we need major investments in reducing water loss, increasing levels of wastewater treatment and reducing industrial pollution of surface and ground waters. Roughly 60% of the urban infrastructure that will exist in 2050 still needs to be built; there is an enormous opportunity to get it right.

Yet, to shape the world’s water future, we need to address the issues at scale and on time. We need to recognize that the challenge ahead is unprecedented. Billions of people gaining access to modern water and sanitation services; cities and industries dramatically reducing water pollution; balancing the water needs of individuals, the environment, agriculture, industry and energy production, will be no small accomplishment.

The world has never been more focused on solving the water challenges we face than it is today. The post-2015 global development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, make it clear that global health, food security, energy security and economic development will only be possible if water sustainability is a priority.

To be able to better present solutions to a wider community, water professionals need to improve and learn from past mistakes and successes. To get there we need to work on many fronts: technological innovation and entrepreneurship, behaviour change and social movements, audacious government policies and regulations, and investments from public and private entities alike.

What does this mean for the IWA and its members?

We cannot rely on solving the challenges of tomorrow with the approaches and technologies of the past. To deliver the water management of the future, we need to innovate, bringing together scientific rigour, pioneering leadership and supportive public institutions. It requires us to connect to innovations and technologies outside the water sector, as the disruption from these is significant, and benefiting fully from them vitally important.

Working with its membership and partners, the IWA will promote new approaches to local conditions, support new ventures with new solutions and co-operate across national, regional and global scales to foster innovation towards a sustainable water future.

Ger Bergkamp

Past IWA Executive Director
Ger Bergkamp is the former Executive Director of the International Water Association. He held the post between the years, 2012 and 2017. Connect with Ger Bergkamp on IWA Connect.   Read full biography