Delft, The Netherlands, 11 Apr 2022

IHE Delft Rector: Capacity development key to efforts to fix world’s water problems

At the end of the recent World Water Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, a Dakar Declaration was issued on behalf of all stakeholders at the forum. IHE Delft Rector Eddy Moors, who took part in the Forum, reflects on the declaration, titled ‘A Blue Deal for Water Security and Sanitation for Peace and Development.’

World Water Forum Dakar Declaration

“The Dakar Declaration contains important messages that call on the international community to guarantee the right to water and sanitation for all and to ensure the availability of resources and resilience, adequate funding and inclusive water governance, as well as to enhance cooperation.  Though these are all good points, they have been on the table for quite some time. It feels a bit like business as usual – which we know is not good enough.

On the streets of Dakar, I talked with people who expressed frustration and disappointment as they still don’t have adequate access to clean water and sanitation. They told me they haven’t seen improvements in their livelihoods, in availability of water and sanitation. They feel left behind – and rightly so.

We need capacity

Their views make it clear:  We need something else than business as usual. We need capacity; we need another way of working for water and sanitation access, and we need innovative approaches. But although I heard excellent presentations and took part in interesting events and discussions at the Forum, I did not hear a commitment to make the bold steps we need. Yes, we all agree that efforts must be accelerated, but despite the development and the political endorsement of the global acceleration framework, it remains unclear how in practice we will fulfil the justified expectations of those without  water and sanitation access.

The 2 billion people who lack access to safely managed drinking water aren’t helped by declarations, promises or goals – they need access to water and sanitation, and they need it soon, if not now. The many people around the world who suffer in damaged environments need healthy ecosystems for their survival and their livelihoods. And the many people whose security is threatened by water-related conflict at local, national and international levels need peace. To deliver for them, we must change our approach.

IHE Delft alumni at the forum had clear ideas what’s needed. Landing Bojan, an MSc graduate who now is Senior Hydrologist at The Gambia’s Department of Water Resources, put it succinctly: ‘We have a tremendous work to do in capacity. It is something that we really need.’

I agree with him. The main barrier to progress at this point is not a lack of technology: instead, what is really holding us back is a lack of capacity at all levels - the individual, organizational and institutional. This lack of capacity leads to poor water governance, inadequate financial structures and often crumbling infrastructure, as well-meaning governments and benefactors sometimes forget that skilled people and resources are needed for maintenance.

Education at all levels

The Dakar declaration emphasises the need to invest to build infrastructures. But how can you build and maintain infrastructures if you don’t have the capacity to properly operate and maintain them? How can you ensure that infrastructures improve lives? That their potential environmental, socioeconomic and political impacts, both in the area but also in neighbouring countries, are considered and mitigated?

Education at all levels is needed to develop such capacity. We need training for water leaders, for  plumbers and technicians, as well as scientists and managers. We need all of them to create strong institutions and organizations that are efficient and effective. Even the most modern technology likely will fail to make a difference unless there are capable people who keep it running.

The local communities whose human rights to water and sanitation are not yet met should be our starting point. What do they need most? The international community’s role is to provide, in collaborations steered by communities in need, support and guidance – and, importantly, capacity development opportunities and financing.

At IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, we aim to develop the capacity of not only the Masters and PhD students who come here from around the world, but also of the many participants in our training courses, including open online courses. With 23,000 alumni, many of whom now are water leaders or teachers in their home countries, we are making an impact. As proud as I am of the Institute’s 65 years of capacity-building efforts, I recognise that they are not enough. I therefore support the Dakar Declaration’s call for enhanced cooperation, and I look forward to intensify our engagement with partners so that we can deliver faster.”

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