Sharing Water Knowledge in the Global Village

The spreading and sharing of ideas, technical innovations and scientific knowledge between geographically distant peoples has been one of the central benefits of globalisation. This diffusion of knowledge has been happening for millennia. In modern Europe the principles underpinning the construction of water supply systems can be traced back to the Romans.

While the exchange of knowledge is as old as mankind, it’s only in the past few decades that these interactions have travelled the world in near real-time. Enabled by the digital revolution the instantaneous transmission of text, sound and images, is now possible. A promising result of this accelerated global exchange of knowledge, in an era that demands open access to information, is its potential for the co-creation of healthier societies.

The diffusion of knowledge has, admittedly, been uneven across time and space, resulting in very different realities between the almost 200 countries that make up the “global village”. For instance, there is still a long way to go to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation.

Even within Europe, progress towards the fulfillment of these human rights is disparate. According to the last WHO Europe report there are still 9 countries that have failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals for drinking water, and 69 million people in 2012 still didn’t have access to safe sanitation.[1]

Against this backdrop, how can we leverage knowledge sharing to pursuing universal and equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation? How can we bring the best solutions and tools to everyone and speed up progress towards these goals? How can we learn what we have not yet discovered, but others have?

One solution is through tools such as the “Compendium of Water Quality Regulatory Frameworks: Which Water for Which Use?”. This, and tools like it, can be a driving force for countries that have yet to draft their water regulatory framework, and can help them maximize efficiency in water use. In this way, they can take advantage of the experiences that have already proved successful elsewhere, and implement a set of rules that will make this global village a little bit more equal.

The analysis and study of existing regulatory frameworks and the case studies that are brought together for the first time in the Compendium of Water Quality Regulatory Frameworks, will contribute to more and more people enjoying access to safe water and sanitation.

From a Portuguese perspective, I can testify that the developments in our water sector in the last two decades were not only the result of excellent work based on a well-defined national strategy, but also taking advantage of the knowledge from those who had already gone down a path that we were discovering.

Twenty years ago, the Portuguese legal framework for drinking water quality could only guarantee safe water to 50 percent of the population. Between 1993 and 2004, the coverage of safe water for drinking increased to 84 percent. However, this was still far from being the excellent drinking water quality as defined under international standards, which demand 99 percent safe water coverage.

Pursuing this goal, a new regulatory model for drinking water quality was established based on the European Drinking Water Directive 98/83/CE. Today, ten years after its implementation, safe water coverage in Portugal has reached 98 percent and new tools – like water safety plans – are being implemented to achieve 99 percent coverage.

The Portuguese example highlights the critical need for knowledge sharing and collaboration. The Compendium of Water Quality is an important tool to facilitate both, and provides an essential map for delivering excellence in water quality. The guidelines, case studies and findings are available here, with the aim of translating this global knowledge into regulatory frameworks that respond effectively to water quality challenges everywhere.


[1] Water and sanitation in the WHO European Region: 2014 Highlights (2015):

Luis Simas

Head of Drinking Water Quality Department at Ersar, Portugal