March 21, 2016 Society

To Succeed, the Water Sector Needs People

The launch of the UN World Water Development Report, with a theme of Water and Jobs, on World Water Day allows me to reflect on the contributions the IWA made to the report. It’s interesting that a majority of the organisations and individuals contributing to the report chose to focus on how access to water and sanitation services could influence and improve the health and availability of workers across a range of sectors.

This highlighted how having access to water and sanitation services could lead to better health, increasing the number of workers available at a given time, and stimulate economic productivity. These considerations link Sustainable Development Goal 6, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, to Sustainable Development Goal 8, which promotes the “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.

My perspective is a little different. Before the water sector at large can have an impact on a worker’s health and productivity, and stimulate economic growth as a result, we must first create and sustain decent jobs in the water sector. Without this investment in jobs and the people who do them, we cannot hope to deliver reliable drinking water, sanitation and wastewater management services.

The challenges facing the water sector require urgent and sustained action on the human resources front. Without this, the ambition to ensure access to water and sanitation to all, which is the ultimate goal of SDG 6, will be impossible. Failure to achieve SDG6 will not only impact upon SDG 8, but also the goals related to health, education, climate, environment and sustainable cities and communities.

In our contribution to the World Water Development Report this perspective is reflected and, throughout this year of Water and Jobs, the IWA will continue to highlight the need to prioritise water sector jobs, addressing shortages and skills gaps.

To address the shortages and gaps in the water sector at large [1], the IWA is highlighting three interrelated points requiring urgent action:

1) Concerted action at national and global level is needed to collect relevant (and gender-segregated) human resources data; and further research is needed to strengthen the evidence base on which action plans and strategies can be built.

2) Formulation of national capacity development strategies, which have high-level political buy-in and the involvement of multiple actors, to enable the labour market for water, sanitation and wastewater services; and to ensure sustained, adequate professional and technical capacity.

3) Investment at organisational level to assess, plan, encourage and recruit staff with the right competencies. Utilities and other organisations responsible for water and sanitation services need to invest in providing remuneration packages and professional development that will support the growth and sustainability of their workforce.


22 March is International World Water Day and this year’s theme is “Water & Jobs”. The sector urgently needs to increase the numbers of competent people working in water management to achieve sustainable and universal access to water and sanitation, issues the IWA will be highlighting throughout the year.

[1] An Avoidable Crisis

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