World water day 2019
by Mairi Dean, graduate water engineer and Happold Foundation alumni ambassador.
This week, the Environment Agency CEO, Sir James Bevan, announced that without positive action England will not be able to meet the national demand for water in 25 years’ time.
Whilst this may be shocking to many it is a stark reminder that, even in regions of great wealth and apparent water abundance, we cannot escape the realities of climate change.
Today is World Water Day, and the theme, ‘Leave no-one Behind’, is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which aims to ensure availability of water for all by 2030, through promotion of sustainable water management. This goal sits among the 17 SDGs adopted in 2015 by all UN Member States, which represent a call to action to protect the earth, end poverty and promote peace and prosperity.
For us as engineers, World Water Day presents an opportunity to both stress the urgency in preserving this precious, finite resource and to showcase some of the ways in which BuroHappold’s specialist water consultants are promoting engagement with the UN SDGs.
Face the Facts
To give a flavour of the challenges that we are faced with, and how they affect different groups, some of the water related statistics outlined by the UN* are listed below:
- 1 billion people live without safe water at home
- Around 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year
- One in four primary schools have no drinking water service
- Women and girls are responsible for water collection in eight out of ten households with water off-premises
- 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.
What these statistics are telling us, is that SDG 6 does not stand alone when thinking about water related issues. Water relates to cities and climate change, poverty, hunger and health, gender and vulnerability, education and economic growth. In fact, there is no part of any life cycle, urban or rural community or culture that can be considered without also considering water. It is evident that SDG 6 cannot be tackled in isolation, and needs a systems approach to problem solving. It is most apparent that we all have a role to play in the ways that we interact with water, people and development.
Engage with SDGs
As engineers working at an international, multi-disciplinary engineering firm such as BuroHappold, we are presented with the opportunity to drive the culture around development and design to align with sustainable development and the SDGs, by engaging them on our projects.
Engineers at BuroHappold have taken initiative on this and are developing a proposal to bring the SDGs into focus on our projects. I spoke with Clare Jones and Rodoula Gregoriou from the Water Group. They believe that by increasing the overall awareness with our collaborators and clients around the SDGs, introducing them early into projects to maximise impact and by assessing our performance in contributing towards them, we can demonstrate how we can contribute in achieving the goals in an impactful way.
Investing in research and development is key to achieving progress. BuroHappold has recently established a collaboration with an alumni of the group, Amelie Paszkowski, a PhD student at the University of Oxford. Amelie’s research focusses on the flood dynamics of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, exploring the human impact on flood risk and a changing landscape. This academic collaboration will enhance our understanding of the sustainable solutions available for some of the technical challenges we face at work, giving us insights into the findings of those at the forefront of current research in the field.
A strong example of a project that aligns with the SDGs is the Nairobi Rivers Regeneration project in Kenya. During this project, our team supported the creation of a Vision for Change document that set out opportunities, challenges and goals for the project, and developed a strategy to engage key stakeholders and identify funding streams for the regeneration of the rivers. We were able to achieve this by aligning our goals with the SDGs and approaching the challenge from a multi-disciplinary perspective, utilising the knowledge of local community and engaging with the economic, cultural, legal and ecological aspects of the river.
Another area in which we are taking the opportunity to drive towards the SDGs is on our projects in the Middle East, where the value of water can be easily understood. This region is somewhere that our work can really make a noticeable impact on the health of the natural water framework, the people that interact and depend on it, and the cultural and economic wealth of rural communities. Water engineering experts at BuroHappold have carried out studies to understand how to preserve ground water resources, promote sustainable agricultural practices, identify alternative water sources and build resilience into communities that are not blessed with an abundance of water.
It is relatively easy to identify the opportunity for the incorporation of SDGs on engineering projects in areas of water scarcity. In high income countries, such as the UK, it seems that as an industry and nation we may be guilty of subconscious complacency in our pursuit for sustainable development and design, and in our efforts to engage with the SDGs.
Sir James Bevan has posed a challenge to us all by raising the threat of real drought on our own doorsteps within a generation. There can be no room for complacency. As engineers, we need to continue to drive change, to ensure our clients are fully aware of value and efficiencies their developments can provide. It is time for us to view the SDGs as performance targets that not only enhance our contribution to sustainable development on the international stage but on our domestic projects too.
The purpose of World Water Day is to raise awareness around water related issues, and to encourage engagement and action towards making a difference. So challenge yourself, engage with the campaign, talk to your friends and colleagues, turn off your taps, and save water!