Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), World Water Week is the leading annual global event for water issues and related international development topics. World Water Week 2020 has been moved to a virtual format, dubbed World Water Week at Home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking place from 24-28 August 2020.

While events and conferences have been cancelled, important projects and schemes to address essential water issues are forging ahead despite the global pandemic. SMEC asked some of its people across different roles, teams and countries around the world, “What does World Water Week 2020 mean to you?”

Building resilience through rural water supply

In India, water is an issue of critical importance if the nation is to progress on major development challenges, including food security, rapid urbanization, disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change. With many freshwater eco-systems suffering degradation, the rural water supply sector in India is undergoing a period of change and innovation in response to the challenges of achieving universal access to safe, affordable drinking water and sustaining those services.

SMEC’s teams have been working with the Indian Government’s Ministry of Jal Shakti, formerly the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, on their strategic plan to ensure that 90% of the country’s rural population can access piped water supply by 2022. This is an enormous challenge, to balance the needs of communities impacted by acute water scarcity, while also ensuring any proposed solutions are sustainable at design, operation and maintenance/management stages. 

"This is what World Water Week 2020 means to me – delivering realistic but also climate resilient solutions via integrated water management," said Sharad Bhushan, Head- Linear Infrastructure Design Management, India. "Through projects such as the Bundelkhand and Vindhya Region Water Supply Scheme, we were able to provide implementable engineering design solutions that would supply safe drinking water to all rural households in the area, while also increasing resilience by promoting the reduced or non-extraction of groundwater." 

A more connected approach to managing a scarce resource

"Australia is a country of weather extremes and water scarcity has always been a complex issue to which there is no single solution," said Ashley Zanetti, Market Leader, Water, Dams & Hydropower, Australia. "It involves actively looking at better ways to capture, connect, manage and replenish our water supplies. The theme in my mind as we mark World Water Week 2020 is connectedness – improving connections at government and stakeholder levels, across catchments, even assets and systems, instead of focusing on a standalone project such as a new dam or desalination plant. Achieving this requires federal, state and local government and water authorities to undertake catchment-based planning, working together to identify gaps, failure points and pressures, and develop strategies to improve the longer-term management of water. This planning will support interconnected development and help communities to work together in better managing our water and resolving chronic and acute water shortage issues."

A dual focus on infrastructure and behaviour change

Water and sanitation aren’t just infrastructure problems – they’re also significant community and health issues. Many vulnerable communities are lacking safe access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) facilities as well as knowledge of safe water and hygiene practices. Nowhere has this been highlighted more strongly than in the current COVID-19 pandemic, where having clean water, practising correct handwashing and other actions can protect life and health. 

Katie O’Malley, Director SMEC Foundation, Australia, said: "Leading into World Water Week 2020, I hope that we can support true change through a dual focus on both water infrastructure and behaviour change. To protect themselves and build resilience, people need to learn about safe water storage, safe toilet use and maintenance, personal hygiene and handwashing, etc. An example is the SMEC Foundation’s support of the “Keeping Girls in School through Improved Reproductive and Menstrual Health” project, an initiative under the Gender Action Platform program, which is supported by the Australian Government through the PNG-AUS Partnership. WaterAid, in partnership with Marie Stopes International, has established an integrated WaSH project that aims to increase school retention in PNG’s young women through improving access to WaSH and sexual and reproductive health knowledge.

"With an increased focus on funding water projects through partnerships, I look forward to what the SMEC Foundation together with global NGOs and community-based organisations can accomplish in the coming year to fund and support the implementation of projects that improve access to resilient water supply, clean drinking water and sanitation."