World Water Congress: Altinbilek Looks Forward to Scotland

20 Oct 2014 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
EDINBURGH, Scotland, United Kingdom

The XVth World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 25-29, 2015. OOSKAnews caught up last week with IWRA President Prof. Dogan Altinbilek to hear his thoughts in anticipation of the 2015 gathering. Altinbilek is also Vice President of the World Water Council.

OOSKAnews: Our readers will be aware of a number of the large annual and bi-annual water-related events that happen around the world.  Two big ones are happening next year: IWRA’s World Water Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the World Water Council’s World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea. You are involved with both. Could you spend a moment describing the different outlooks and perspectives of these events?

Dogan Altinbilek: The World Water Council and the IWRA belong together, the IWRA being a founding member of the Council. Indeed, it was in 1994 at the IWRA Congress in Cairo, Egypt, that a resolution was made and a committee formed to create the World Water Council. In addition, the first general assembly of the World Water Council was held during the IXth IWRA World Water Congress in Montreal in 1997.

These two events are different type of events.  The [World Water] Forums are mainly events with political and regional components.  These attract up to 30,000 people, mostly from the developing world, with a view to finding solutions for their water needs.  The IWRA Congresses are seeking to advance knowledge and put special emphasis on linking that knowledge with water policy and management.  This is evidenced in our activities: in Water International, which is one of the world’s main scientific journals focused on water policy and management; webinars; policy briefings on the water sciences; thematic projects; and, of course, the World Water Congress, which is the first and foremost event focused on the quality of science and knowledge. 

We are complementary organizations. Both are necessary in our constant search to enable development while managing the world’s water resources in a sustainable manner.

OOSKAnews: The theme of the Edinburgh event is “Global Water, a Resource for Development:  Opportunities, Challenges, and Constraints.” How is this theme decided? Is it very different from previous themes?  What is the thinking behind that particular focus?

Dogan Altinbilek: IWRA’s World Water Congress has always been at the forefront of global thinking about water resources. This is evident when you look at the themes of the past Congresses.  The Congress is an important international stage where emerging major issues can be put into the limelight. Water is now fully recognized as a resource that is not only technical but requires engineering and physical solutions, while the resource itself enables global development across different sectors: food, energy, health, transportation. 

I would like to underline the legal issues in water resources development, because IWRA has a good number of members who are water lawyers, dealing with water law.  Scotland, also, has some very well-known scientists and lawyers working in this field.

OOSKAnews: Water is a complex subject. An observation that OOSKAnews has, as publishers, is that while the mainstream media are gretting better at covering climate change issues, for example, or carbon-related issues, water has a bit of a problem getting on the front page. Why do you think that water has not succeeded in breaking through in the public consciousness so much? What is the biggest misunderstanding about water in non-specialist circles?

Dogan Altinbilek: Misunderstandings and misconceptions is a tough question. Water is a difficult subject to manage. In different climatic regions, there are different problems. In water-abundant areas, there are floods and issues related to the damage due to the excess of water. In dry areas, there is a shortage of water, and the management challenge is different.

In my opinion, the biggest misunderstanding in the water sector is that in many countries, still, the thinking is that water is a free commodity…it is God-given, there should be no price on it. But those countries who are not able to pay for water, or their water utilities, they are not solving their water problems. Yes, water is free, it is given in the form of rain by God, but to bring it to your home, there is a cost involved. If you cannot meet this cost, then there will be a shortage.

Those countries, even if they do not have so much water, if they are rich, they are able to solve the problem. If you can desalinate water and you can afford $0.70 $1.00 USD for a cubic meter of water, no problem. Israel is doing it, many countries are doing it.

But if you are not able to pay that cost, if you are living on less than $1.00 USD or $2.00 USD per day, then your government cannot collect taxes, and you are not able to pay for the water. Thus, almost 1 billion people in the world do not have water. To bring water to these people is not so difficult, but it is a problem. You must finance the water infrastructure required for that.  

Water is a global resource, one that is ripe for development.  More and more we shall need to see water as a key enabler across multiple sectors: industry, energy, food, health, eco-systems ... Fragmented approaches between the sectors and, indeed, in the water sector itself -- there is much room for improved cooperation. 

Improved governance is essential to ensure the integration horizontally across the sectors and vertically within the sectors. 

In contrast to the people who take the water as being free, some of the industrial users -- Nestle, Coca-Cola, Unilever -- these companies and many others already know that the future of their companies is very much dependent on the water future.  And they are making great efforts for water.

OOSKAnews: Can events like the World Water Congress also raise the profile of water and create societal awareness and political will around water challenges?

Dogan Altinbilek: IWRA aims to bring together excellent knowledge to share among not just the scientific community, but also the knowledge community, which includes the private sector, NGOs and the public sector.  The mission is to strengthen the link between knowledge and water policy and water management. The Congress provides an excellent platform to bring these various stakeholders together, and to highlight the diverse perspectives, solutions, and challenges facing the water management.

OOSKAnews: Why did IWRA choose Scotland to host the XVth World Water Congress?

Dogan Altinbilek: Scotland is a natural choice to host the XVth Congress. It has an excellent and much respected scientific community regarding water resources and related sectors. The Scottish Government has the Hydro Nation agenda, which recognizes the importance of water resources as a vector of development. Edinburgh is a wonderful city for our Congress….it will be great!