Gathering water leaders for success

Over the past decade, the Singapore International Water Week’s Water Leaders Summit has convened industry captains, government leaders and water experts to share their water plans, challenges and achievements, with the goal of inspiring others and forging partnerships.

By 2050, about seven in 10 people will live in cities across the globe, potentially straining their governments’ ability to provide infrastructure and services such as housing and safe drinking water, according to the latest World Urbanisation Prospects report published by the United Nations in May 2018.

In fact, by 2030, there will be 43 megacities worldwide that each house more than 10 million people, up from just 30 such cities now. “To ensure that the benefits of urbanisation are fully shared and inclusive, policies to manage urban growth need to ensure access to infrastructure and social services for all,” the UN warned.

The challenges and opportunities of cities and megacities, especially in unlocking access to sanitation and clean drinking water, are why they are the focus of this year’s Water Leaders Summit at the biennial Singapore International Water Week (SIWW). The summit gathers high-level representatives from government, industry, academia and non-government groups to discuss solutions to pressing water issues.

At this year’s Water Leaders Summit, for example, the opening plenary will centre on urban solutions for a sustainable future, and feature eminent speakers such as Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive of the World Bank, and Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of climate change and environment.

Other sessions at the Water Leaders Summit will zero in on how water management should evolve in cities, with topics spanning the use of technologies such as intelligent water grids, and concepts such as closed loop systems, which reduce water and energy use and increase water recycling.

Sharing challenges and success stories

Over the years, industry captains, government leaders and water experts have shared their success stories at the Water Leaders Summit to encourage the global water industry to be more environmentally friendly, sustainable and socially equitable.

In 2016, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who was chairman of multinational corporation Nestlé at the time, spoke about how the firm had introduced internal, differentiated pricing to better reflect its products’ true water cost and encourage water efficiency. It prices one cubic metre of water at US$1 in water-abundant countries and at US$5 in water-scarce ones.

At the same summit, the Philippines’ Manila Water Company, which supplies water and wastewater services to more than six million people in the city, outlined its Tubig Para Sa Barangay (Water for Poor Communities) programme. This provides water to low-income families who often live in informal settlements constructed on state-owned or private land.

Normally, such informal settlement households cannot be given a water connection. To work around this, the company lays down multiple water meters in an array outside of the state-owned or private land. The families then build pipes to transport water from the meters to their homes.

Gerardo Ablaza Jr, who was the firm’s president and chief executive when he attended the 2016 Water Leaders Summit, said at the time: “The communities in the programme have become our strong supporters and help us to police against pilferage and meter tampering. They have also become on-the-ground assets in terms of reporting physical leaks in their areas, and are among the best at paying their bills in a timely manner.”

Cooperation among government agencies, citizens, companies and organisations is crucial to tackle water issues that are becoming more complex, said Tommy Koh, who has chaired the Water Leaders Summit since its first edition in 2008, and is ambassador-at-large in Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He noted that the World Economic Forum identified water shortages as the world’s biggest threat in the near future. “Global warming and climate change also increase the risk of sudden, intense floods and prolonged droughts, which can further stress water systems. Governments, industry players, academics, international organisations and communities must all come together to address these issues before they become intractable,” he said.

Forging partnerships and collaborations

Sue Murphy, chief executive of the Water Corporation of Western Australia, one of Australia’s largest water service providers, said that the SIWW is a key event that unites these different stakeholders. “You can catch up with a wide variety of water experts who are all in the same place at the same time,” she said.

“More importantly, Singapore itself has an integrated approach to water management that is breath-taking. Its constrained land area has led to innovation, water-sensitive urban design and a sense of a united government that is palpable. The opportunity to learn from Singapore’s national water agency PUB while meeting global water experts and thought leaders is another unique proposition of the SIWW,” she continued.

She gave as an example the PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme, which turns drains and canals in Singapore into picturesque streams and integrates them with their environment, adding that the Water Corporation and PUB have set up a formal staff exchange programme to learn from one another.

She also said that she has benefited from her conversations with other delegates at the SIWW and Water Leaders Summit: “There are always great leaders who have tackled similar problems and are generous enough to share their learnings.”

At this year’s Water Leaders Summit, the speakers include Ban Ki-moon, who served as the United Nations’ secretary-general, Ranil Wickremesinghe, prime minister of Sri Lanka, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of climate change and environment, and Diane d’Arras, president of the International Water Association.

To commemorate the SIWW’s 10 years of excellence this year, its organisers have also planned activities such as an interactive word cloud that showcases past and future water industry trends, and sampling sessions of a beer made from recycled water known as NEWater. A seven metre-long feature wall will highlight water technologies from past winners of the SIWW Best Poster Award, and how these have helped cities and communities. 

Koh summarised: “In the last 25 years, we have enabled 2.6 billion people worldwide to gain access to safe drinking water. We should lose no time in building on that achievement. The lessons learned from the Singapore International Water Week have inspired, and will continue to inspire, us to work more closely together in overcoming our water challenges.”

The 8th Singapore International Water Week will be held in conjunction with the 6th World Cities Summit and 4th CleanEnviro Summit Singapore from July 8 to 12 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. To register for the event, please click here.

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