June 29, 2016 Society

Working together, water professionals can address the global water crisis

We live in a time of rapid change, one in which water crises will define our world over coming decades. Water has been ranked as the most significant global risk over the next 10 years, but is also central to many of the other top global risks: the failure to adapt to and mitigate climate change; extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts; and food and energy insecurity.

In this rapidly evolving world, what is the role of water professionals in finding and implementing solutions? What is the role of organisations like the International Water Association in driving the agenda for a sustainable, water wise world? Working with water professionals who are IWA members, such as our forty-nine Specialist Groups, I’m often asked what added value we can bring to the serious challenges we face.

Water management is a complex multi-disciplinary topic, and water professionals come in many different forms. One of the unique strengths of the IWA is bringing together experts from across geographies and specialisations into communities of practice – IWA’s Specialist Groups. Connecting people from across disciplines and national boundaries accelerates innovations in science and practice; and makes a difference in addressing water challenges to help us achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6, to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

IWA Specialist Groups are a major source for channelling the energy that is in the water community to find sustainable solutions. They organise events that address the key issues facing the sector; stimulate dialogues that help share the latest science, technology and practice; and promote collaboration not just within the water sector, but that which also connects the water sector with industry, agriculture and cities.

Through this kind of dialogue and collaboration, Specialist Groups become engines for accelerating innovation and moving it to scale; driving efficiency that focuses on the IWA’s 3Rs of Reduce (usage and inequity in access to water and sanitation), Reuse (used water, energy and other vital resources from wastewater) and Replenish (water sources that are under stress such as wetlands and aquifers).



The close linkage between academia and practice that IWA fosters through its communities ensures ideas cooked up in the lab deliver real benefits for people. One of the ways this is achieved is through the work of Task Groups formed from one or more Specialist Groups to undertake a critical piece of work that will add to the knowledge of the sector. This is often through scientific and technical reports, or manuals of best practice that describe the state-of-the-art in a certain discipline, or a consensus to move forward in certain areas.

The importance of this work was underlined by a recent survey on breakthrough science and technology in water amongst IWA’s membership. Survey participants highlighted the need for greater collaboration between stakeholders, the integration of technologies, and the application of existing science and research above inventing new science. The desire for knowledge exchange and collaboration, between research and practice, was particularly strong beyond traditional topical and geographical boundaries. This is a reflection of the globalised nature of both the challenges we face and the solutions we need to develop.

If the 21st century will be defined by water scarcity as many studies predict, it will also be defined by the transition to a knowledge economy that values knowledge resources – the quantity, quality and accessibility of information available to people – more highly than ever before. Being part of the IWA network presents IWA members with the ability to break down the silos they often work in, and to connect internationally to share knowledge, build collaborations and explore opportunities for new solutions. In doing so, IWA’s members will lead the way to a water wise world.


How to get involved

To learn more about IWA, Specialist Groups and the benefits of membership visit https://iwa-connect.org

Hong Li

Asia and Oceania Director
Hong has been with IWA since 2009 and currently is the Regional Director for Asia & Oceania. She previously headed IWA’s Science, Practice and Policy agenda. Hong has vast experiences working with water leaders world-wide (e.g. through Spec... Read full biography