April 16, 2015 Society

We Need a Worldwide Effort in the Capacity Development of Water Professionals

Technician servicing the gas boiler for hot water and heating

In many countries the lack of adequate human capacity at all levels is the most important inhibiting factor for progress in water management. IWA’s recent study, An Avoidable Crisis, WASH Human Resource Capacity Gaps in 15 Developing Economies, shows how the lack of capacity has many different faces in different places. If we are to have any chance of meeting the future Sustainable Development Goals, we need an unprecedented worldwide effort in the capacity development of water professionals.

Water management is a complex multi-disciplinary topic and water professionals, therefore, come in many different forms and shapes. Engineers, social scientists, famers, accountants, plumbers, lawyers, communications experts, managers, economists, geographers – to name a few – are all involved in water management as ‘water professionals’. As water touches upon so many fields of expertise and know how – building capacity on water management is not an isolated effort in a few engineering schools. The water training that goes with the new water culture has to be built in the entire national education systems from university courses to vocational training.

Successful examples of development of capacities of water professionals at scale, all have at least two elements in common:

  • There is at least one strong professional association at national level that is connected to the international water professionals network;
  • There is a strong linkage between science, technology and practice, furthering the adoption of innovation from both a pull and push side.

National professional associations have a vital role to play in maintaining and building the professionalism in the water sector, as is the case in many countries. Some of the best associations represent a broad set of professional backgrounds and bring together a wide variety of individual professionals from practice to academia, from technology to communications.

Through representing multiple stakeholders, these associations are able to support the development of national standards, diverse training courses or providing network opportunities for water professionals. All these are critical for developing a thriving national water sector that is capable of addressing the water challenges of today and tomorrow.

The second core element is the close linkage between academia and practice. To achieve this goal it is important for local universities to be part of the solution to local and regional problems. Linking science with practice, universities with public administration and utilities enables them to educate students to analyse national or local water problems and find appropriate solutions adapted to local circumstances.

International associations, such as the IWA – the International Water Association, take a similar approach on a global level and therefore support and co-operate with national associations. They provide the international platform and network of water professionals necessary to make globally available progress in science, technology, economics and policy. This makes a significant contribution to enhancing water development. In order to bridge the language and cultural gap between different global regions, the IWA’s network covers almost every country in the world and has an increased focus on developing regional hubs.

Developing and empowering future water leaders is a critically important aspect of this. The IWA Young Water Professionals (YWP) is devoted to this goal. National YWP chapters are supported by national IWA governing members, and by the IWA secretariat, particularly in the areas of communication, quality control and logistics.

The limiting factors for the development of sustainable water management are different in different regions; local situations have to be understood and solutions found to address them. In our experience finances are not always the limiting factor. Instead, the lack of human capacity, inadequate priority setting at the political level, and a lack of a comprehensive understanding of the regional and local water situations are far more likely to become barriers to progress.

Helmut Kroiss

Professor Emeritus Vienna University of Technology, IWA Board Member, IWA Immediae Past President, Chair Nominations Committee