THE COLOMBO EXPERIENCE: A YOUNG WATER PROFESSIONAL’S INSIGHT
Recounting the experiences shared by my colleagues from the Young Water Professionals community about the 2017 World Water And Development Congress & Exhibition in Buenos Aires – Argentina, made me yearn to have an experience of my own. So when I saw the call for rapporteurs for the Development Congress in Colombo, I knew that was my chance to experience the amazing networking and knowledge-sharing platform that I had heard about, and while contributing to the success of the Congress as a rapporteur.
As my flight landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport, my eyes were fixed on the beautiful city of Colombo at sunset. The orange skies and the view of the sun, which seemed to be entering the sea, was spectacular at sight. My pleasure of this view was short-lived as I felt anxious at the thought of my responsibilities as a Lead Rapporteur on SDGs & Innovation at the Congress. My anxiety vanished after meeting the amazing team of rapporteurs, who had varied backgrounds and came from different parts of the globe with a balanced gender representation, which was an indication of IWA’s respect for diversity.
The Colombo Development Congress brought several water professionals, academic institutions, industries and regulatory bodies from across the world together with the aim of connecting strategies with solutions as ‘sustainable solutions to emerging economies’ was at the centre of all conversations. During the Congress, conversations on human rights to water, non-sewer systems, cross-sectoral collaborations and digital technologies were constantly mentioned as critical areas that needed to be considered in making progress towards achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation. The keynote speakers did an amazing job by pointing out urgent actions that needed to be worked at, such as the transition from centralized wastewater treatment systems to decentralized treatment systems. Prof. Kala Vairavamoorthy, CEO of the International Water Association, referred to the adoption of digital technologies in the water sector as an enabler to realize improved and equitable water and sanitation service delivery. Dr Silver Mugisha, Managing Director of National Water and Sewage Cooperation – Uganda, made it plain that utilities in emerging economies need to move from patronizing already made technologies to developing their own technologies that suit them.
The voice of Young Water Professionals was not left out as we deliberated on how to overcome the challenges we face as young professionals in the sector during the Emerging Water Leaders Forum. During this Forum, I had the opportunity to share my story about how I used the IWA Network to gain access to peer reviewers and a scholarship to further my education. Other Young Water Professionals also gave personal accounts about how they benefitted from the IWA Network and this came across a major source of inspiration for the over 40 participants of the Forum. The greatest moment of inspiration for me was when I saw two Young Water Professionals, Mary Namusoke from Uganda and Omi Gupta from India, on stage during the Closing Ceremony. They made an important call to action for the continuous involvement of young professionals in all activities within the water sector. This was also a clear demonstration of the various opportunities that are being created for young professionals to work together with senior professionals within the IWA Network and beyond.
At the end of the Congress, while returning home I meditated on the week’s activities and the lesson’s I had learnt. Rosie Wheen’s (Executive Director – WaterAid Australia) keynote on human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation came to mind immediately. Rosie used a storytelling approach to draw the attention of everyone to the inequalities that still exist in the water and sanitation services delivery chain. As she narrated stories from her past experience, people listened with rapt attention and most participants confessed that they could now picture the water and sanitation challenges in a more human way. Personally, her speech came as a confirmation of my thoughts about the need for the water and sanitation sector to move from using a business-centered approach to a more human-right based approach of providing services. In Rosie’s final words, she called for everyone to be conscious of the power we have and how we are using that power to promote the human right to clean water and sanitation.
My experience at this year’s Development Congress was a rich mixture of networking, learning of new skills and contributing to conversations that will put the water sector on the right path towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation.
Jacob K. Amengor
IWA Young Leadership Award Winner 2018