World Water Week Wrap Up: Hard Truths with a Twist of Optimism and a Shot of Innovation

The 20th annual World Water Week came to an end last Friday in Stockholm. Among the roughly 2,500 people there were leading water experts from the fields of engineering, biology, ecology, education, hydrology, politics, chemistry, and negotiation.

Colwell_2010.jpgAre they optimistic? 2010 Stockholm Water Prize winner Rita Colwell summed it up for National Geographic News by saying “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Colwell earned the water prize this year for her work on the ecology and early detection of water-borne infectious diseases, particularly cholera. She is the first woman to earn the prize. (There have been women honored before by theStockholm International Water Institute, but for the organizations they run.) She was also the first woman appointed to head the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Among other wisdom, Colwell offered up the following during a Thursday session on how science can contribute to solving the world’s future water challenges: “Scientists and engineers are the worst communicators on Earth. For this problem it is about communication, communication, communication.”

Photograph of Dr. Colwell courtesy the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Here’s what other Stockholm Water Prize-winners from the last ten years had to say about the hopeful-yet-challenging future of water, and humanity:

“We can make drinking water out of anything… there is no one solution, but we need more water reuse.”

“We have to pay the cost of water and sanitation. People think it should be free. That is one of the problems.”

–Professor Mogens Henze, Department of Environmental Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark (1992 winner)

“We have to use every drop of water… hold, capture, recharge, and the city has to reinvent its use of water, so every drop is maximized.”

–Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment (2005 winner)

(Read more about Narain’s work in our Lessons From the Field series.)

“I don’t believe if they can send a man to the moon they can’t reinvent the flush toilet…. Society does not have the luxury of only using water once.”

–Professor Takashi Asano, author of Water Reuse: Issues, Technologies, and Applications (2001 winner)

“Technology is important for metro areas, but for the remote villages, it is important to find ways within households to find their own safe water. If you can provide safe drinking water, you can prevent multiply infectious diseases.”

“Intelligence genes are not only on a Y chromosome. It is important to use that other 50 percent of the population… Education of girls is the solution…”

–Rita Colwell, John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health (2010 winner)

“A better solution is more decentralized,” as in some New York City apartment buildings that have their own water recycling systems.

–Perry McCarty, professor emeritus at Stanford University’s School of Engineering (2007 winner)

“We need more investment in public awareness… The UN vote, [to make water a basic human right] was significant because then people can demand that right.”

–Barbara Frost, CEO of WaterAid (1995 winner)

“Ecological engineering will be selected for, chosen to help solve a lot of problems when we run out of energy.”

–Professor William Mitsch, School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University (2004 winner)

“Farmers manage at least 80 percent of water, engineers only manage 30 percent… Diet is key. We need to eat in ways that save our health, for us and the environment.”

“There was nothing in history as important for reducing the demand for water.” – on China’s one-child policy.

–Professor John Anthony Allan, King’s College London School of Oriental and Asian Studies (2008 winner)

“What Nestle is doing now will revolutionize water management more than what India is doing. We must bring in industry.”

–Professor Asit Biswas, president of the Third World Centre for Water Management (2006 winner)


Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E,The Environmental MagazineEnvironmental Science & Technology online newsGreenwireGreen Guide, and National Geographic News.

[This post has been reformatted for Water Currents.]

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Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.