In this series of interviews we present members of our AIWW community. Tomas Michel PhD is President of Water Europe and one of the AIWW PAC-members. His main focus is linking water knowledge and the real world. He is inspired to push innovation through technology as well as through non-technological governance proposals. And he has an important message to the international “water world and beyond”: join AIWW!

 

What is it about the water sector that inspires you?

At first it was the technology and finding solutions to certain situations and problems. What inspires me right now, is that the value of water becomes recognised, that its centrality to solve transversal issues (SDGs, covid, health, circular economy, green deal) is put forward. That is what truly inspires me about water, that people come to understand the all-encompassing value of water.

 

What are your aspirations and goals for the upcoming 5 years?

Improve and develop a convincing water story based on solid economic models (bring water to the real world). Currently we live in the world with a focus on political and social services as well as ecology but we do not touch upon the real world (economics). So, my ambitions are to:

  • Promote and lead (in Europe Water) living labs to push innovation, to get it down in the ground. Living labs are big show cases for water solutions, allowing to create water experiences around Europe and test water policies, tariffs, etc… with everybody involved. To do this at a pilot scale with sufficient financing should be possible. If the Dutch do it already with their poulder spirit, then maybe the NL institutions could be involved intoin European living labs sharing their solutions and experiences.
  • Last aspiration: solutions to water problems are mainly not technological or technical any longer but we need new and better water governance schemes. Water is like a religion, nothing changes. Citizen, customer and market driven changes, so the right incentives are needed. Essentially, this starts by thinking about different water tariffs, maybe make them more expensive, you’ll get also more for what you pay (better environment, ecosystems). You need citizen participation in this.

What is the value of the Amsterdam International Water Week for you?

First of all, the AIWW is a reference; for me it is a pioneer. It is a place where water actors, finance, problems, and owners can get together; where everyone can launch proposals and concepts. All this said, it is where the Dutch usual suspects come together, whereas it should be more international. We must reach at the international level – first Europe, then international. Not only must we go international, we need get out of the water world and incorporate other sectors for a wider impact. Water-related issues, and thus the AIWW, need to interest economists, politicians, heavy industries, chemical industry. Move away from NL; speak to a broader audience THEN we can do something with water.

Which impacts do you believe Covid-19 has on the (possible) themes for AIWW 2021?

Covid19 is a wakeup call.We should definitely not neglect the relationship between water and health! In Europe we do not realise how important water is for better health. and well-being. Not focus too much on COVID but COVID is a wakeup call; a reminder, it is not a problem but an opportunity to push forward a lot of objectives! Things are not perfect, and far from perfect, so let’s take this momentum to create change. Both resilience (and sustainability) are now fully recognized as transversal issues, implying need to collaborate and share understanding among very different actors. COVID has made clear that more anticipation and preparedness is needed, and we have to be prepared even for the unknown. COVID has also introduced a new sense of urgency. COVID has made the SDG objective more visible, if we want nobody to be left behind. There is also quite ample consensus that a lot of the need for innovation is not technological, but in the realm of governance.