Global Challenges We Face and the Need for International Collaboration

Over the past few decades, the water industry has undergone drastic change. This change, being experienced in many parts of the world right now, can be divided into two categories. One is structural change, and the other is unpredictable discontinuous change.

The structural change is represented, among others, by global climate change, continued urbanization, aging infrastructure and population decline. In Japan, for example, aging water system and shrinking population have posed a great challenge to water utilities, requiring massive investment in system replacement and rehabilitation. In rapidly urbanizing areas around the globe, there is a pressing need for the development of water infrastructure that could meet burgeoning demand. In low-income countries, the United Nations has been trying for long to make safe drinking water available for all and recently adopted the Sustainable Development Goals to finally achieve this objective.
On the other hand, the other category of change, which is unpredictable and discontinuous one, is represented by irregularities linked with natural phenomena, including earthquake and tsunami, e.g. the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. In the 2013 report (WGI AR5), IPCC stated that “The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase…” As if to support this observation, abnormal weather patterns associated with drought, heat wave and flooding are becoming more common in recent years.

The structural change and the unpredictable discontinuous change are intertwined in a complex way. And our water service is highly susceptible to the risks and threats of these events. Given this situation, how should we design water system for future cities and rural areas? How can we come up with a more sustainable vision for our water service?

One thing is certain. If we try to deal with these issues on our own, our solutions will be insufficient. The water industry has a rich layer of professionals working hard and committed to making a better world for current and future generations. And as the world gets more globalized, it will be more important and feasible for these professionals to work closely and find better ideas and solutions that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Since its inception in 1988, Japan Water Research Center has served as an intersection where municipalities, manufactures and researchers have incorporated their know-how into effective, cross-sector collaboration programs. Our effort has been based on a belief that together we could learn further and extract more from our individual expertise and experiences. The Watershare platform created by KWR is an exciting initiative that enables such collaboration beyond national borders. As President of JWRC, I am very pleased that JWRC will join Watershare as a new member. We look forward to making a larger contribution to water industry through discussion with our new partners on how to integrate fragmented knowledge, technology and system for better adaptation to global climate change, risks of natural disasters and other challenges facing effective implementation of service management.

By Dr. Shinichiro Ohgaki, President of Japan Water Research Center, Professor Emeritus of The University of Tokyo, Japan