Being a great ambassador for AIWW as a Programme Advisory Committee Member, we asked Professor Guy Alaerts to give his view on the AIWW Conference 2019 themes and topics.
This year’s main theme is the ‘Implementation of integrated solutions by cities, industries, utilities and financiers: from cases to bankable projects.’
Q: What are some of the important aspects of the complexity of water issues, and why are they significant or challenging?
“As the people on our globe are rapidly growing more numerous as well as wealthier, they are inevitably making more intensive use of the limited quantities of water for productive purposes. But at the same time, we are putting higher value on our environmental quality and ecosystems that depend on that same water. Suddenly we start to realise that water is the connecting element between people, and with our environment. Even countries with sophisticated water management are now finding that an unusual climatic event such as the dry summer of 2018 can trigger national emergencies.”
“Thus, balancing the pros and cons of each decision on water, of each investment in a project, is becoming an increasingly demanding process. We must be able to navigate the tightening maze of regulations and the sharpened rules that define economic and financial feasibility. In addition we are expected to manage uncertainty better.”
“The capability to ‘get things done’ in ‘a smart way’ increasingly relies on inter-disciplinary teams and processes that combine deep expert knowledge with broader sets of skills and leadership. Developing these is a challenge – especially because such transitions take a lot of time, and time is running out under the pressure of climate change. This is why IHE Delft – with its many partners across the world – is developing learning modalities to help build these competences for the future.”
Q: In what ways is the need to address complexity reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals?
“The SDGs created an important and necessary consensus to spur nations to take more focused action. However, they are a longlist of desired distinct outcomes without exploring the consequences of integration, such as highlighting synergies, or clarifying the trade-offs of choices.”
“SDG6 calls for both full water supply coverage and water security, but the two goals sometimes diverge. Under scenarios of growing water demand and rapidly rising water stress due to climate change, it is rather unlikely that we will achieve 100% water supply coverage; moreover, in some regions what was achieved may be lost again.”
“Lack of integration at the planning and operations level poses a generic and growing risk for many countries, and the SDGs don’t address this.”
Q: What are some of the opportunities for individuals and organisations to respond to the complexity of water?
“In the future, professionals and organizations that possess strategic and integrative operational strengths will have an advantage. Also the capability of more reliable forecasting and of managing uncertainty will yield a competitive edge. But we should focus rather on the ethical task of supporting countries that are most vulnerable and at the same time have the weakest institutions.”
“Much of the current and future advances will draw upon computational capabilities, big data analysis and ICT, yet we observe that the knowledge and digital divide between richer and poorer nations keeps growing. This is creating a large and urgent agenda for partnerships across the globe to help reconcile the SDG and water security goals.”
“Key in these partnerships is the development of local knowledge and institutional capacity, such as is practised by IHE Delft.”