Saturday 13 September 2008

IWA World Water Congress, Vienna

The International Water Association held its biennial World Water Congress in Vienna during 7−12 September [there were other important Congresses in Vienna in 1515 and 1814-15 which had rather different outcomes!]. It was a really huge event with ~2,800 participants and many parallel sessions, so impossible to go to everything one would like to. IWA covers more or less the whole water cycle in all parts of the world, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ‘high-tech’ was represented more than ‘low-tech’ – although for the first time at these biennial conferences IWA made a really good effort, through its Development Director, Darren Saywell, to mainstream ‘development issues’ in general and sanitation in particular. The problem was, as in Stockholm (see blog of 25 August), too many presentations, so too little time for debate (and, even when there was some time, things went ‘off beam’ quite a bit – at least in a few of the sessions I attended).

Monday 8 September
I went to the afternoon sessions on the ‘Future of Sanitation: Expanding sanitation options to meet diverse needs around the world’ (fortunately interpreted as around the developing world). The main topic was the draft Vienna Charter on Urban Sanitation – a companion in-the-making to the Bonn Charter on Drinking Water. More work needs to be done, but let’s hope it turns out to be a really pertinent document.

Tuesday 9 September
The morning started with UN-Habitat’s Dialogue on Urban Sanitation organized by Dr Graham Alabaster, a good event in the ‘Development Corner’. Afterwards Graham and I discussed how best to publish the data UN-Habitat has collected on WatSan access not only in 17 towns around Lake Victoria, but also in ~100 cities in the developing world. It’ll take some time to write it all up properly and get it published. It should be ready for Stockholm next year, and it’ll be well worth the wait – it’s explosive stuff, so it has to be done very carefully!

In the afternoon there was a workshop organized by the IWA specialist group on Environmental Engineering Education. The question posed was “Water, engineering and education: are our educational institutions meeting today’s imperatives?” So it should have been good – but it wasn’t, as the presentations were somewhat ‘off beam’, so the question couldn’t be answered! It was also very disappointing that there was nothing on environmental engineering curricula in developing country universities, far too few of which address the real problems these countries face. And, of course, education is not only about today’s imperatives but also, and more importantly, about tomorrow’s.

Wednesday 10 September
I went to the session on waste stabilization ponds – no choice as I was a co-author of a presentation (already published in Water Science and Technology – see here) given by Professor Andy Shilton of Massey University, New Zealand. I then participated with Andy and Professor Marcos von Sperling (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil) in an informal meeting to plan the next IWA waste stabilization pond conference to be held next April in Belo Horizonte, for which Marcos is the main organizer.

Thursday 11 September
Last day of the congress proper (field visits tomorrow) and a session on urban sanitation and drainage which was jointly organized by IWA and SIWI. However, so few people turned up that the organizers decided to discuss the working relationship between IWA and SIWI and in particular how to coordinate better the Stockholm World Water Week, the current IWA biennial World Water Congresses and its new biennial Development Congresses (the first of which will be held in Mexico City in September next year).

Later in the morning I attended a demonstration on the use of solar cookers to disinfect water and a very simple kit to check the bacteriological quality of the water given by Professor Robert Metcalf of California State University Sacramento. Really excellent! More details here.

All in all, an excellent week!