Towards a water-inclusive society
In conversation with KWR director Dragan Savic
If there is anything that KWR has demonstrated in the past corona year, it is resilience. This fills director Dragan Savic with pride. ‘We’ve put our effort where it’s needed, in a unified way.’ Health, sustainability and collaboration form KWR’s strategy to contribute to a water-inclusive society. Along with health and sustainability, resilience forms KWR’s strategy aimed at achieving a water-inclusive society.
‘Together with our partners, KWR forms the perfect alliance to take steps towards inclusive water.’Prof. Dragan Savic FREng
As soon as the coronavirus hit our country in March 2020, KWR appreciated the enormity of the challenge for the water sector and society at large, and immediately started the wastewater surveillance to monitor the degree of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection within cities. Savic: ‘We achieved a worldwide first with this, but that’s not the point. There were so many research questions to be answered and new methods to be developed; all of which was successfully achieved. Soon the whole world got involved and adopted the approach. Through the European Union’s Joint Research Centre, we got in touch with partners, which led to a common protocol. A great achievement.’ During the period of the crisis, KWR has provided extra stimulus to its researchers to ensure they also continue their research and innovation in other key areas unrelated to COVID. ‘At KWR, people are central,’ says Savic. ‘They are our true assets. This incentive has produced great research results.’
Crucial role of health
Combining high quality research with great forethought in partnership and collaboration is something that comes naturally to KWR, explains Savic. ‘If we want to be leaders with our research, we should not do this work alone. We work together with water utilities, Water Authorities, other research institutions, and all kinds of governments at home and abroad. Because various interests can come into play, we have to preserve our independence. The resilience that we have demonstrated as KWR is something that we take with us into our work for the water sector. It, too, must show flexibility, with all the challenges such as climate change and population growth coming our way. What the pandemic has also taught us is the crucial role of health for the water sector. While most people associate health with medicine, last year makes abundantly clear the extent to which it is directly related to high-quality water supply and sanitation.’
Besides health, sustainability is also a pillar in KWR’s strategy for the next decade. More and more water utilities are embracing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which Savic particularly welcomes. And the cooperation agenda of the Union of Water Authorities and Vewin, ‘Water Verbindt‘, calls for a joint future perspective for a climate-robust water system. ‘We are reaching out to the world with our knowledge, seeking coherence. By this, I mean a water-inclusive society. A society in which water is recognized for its value, not for its cost. And in which the link is made between water, energy, food and health. Together with Watershare, Allied Waters and WHO, KWR forms the perfect alliance to take steps towards inclusive water.’
In outlining KWR’s future plans, Savic emphasises the role of hydroinformatics. ‘We live in uncertain times. What are the potential impacts of climate change? And how do we frame research on the water-energy-food-health nexus? This is where digital tools come in, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which help us make sense of the large amounts of available data. Ninety percent of all global data has been generated in the last two years. For the water sector, it’s important to democratize that data so that everyone can get access to it. With hydroinformatics, we support better decision-making in the water sector.’
Combining high-quality research with great diligence in partnership and collaboration constitutes the third strategic pillar. This is something that comes naturally to KWR, explains Savic. ‘If we want to be leaders with our research, we should not do this work alone. We work together with water utilities, Water Authorities, other research institutions, and all kinds of governments at home and abroad. Because various interests can come into play, we have to preserve our independence. The resilience that we have demonstrated as KWR is something that we take with us into our work for the water sector. It, too, must show flexibility, with all the challenges such as climate change and population growth coming our way.
For the coming years, Savic would like to see KWR’s scientific output measured primarily by the extent to which the research is taken up in practice. Both within the water sector and beyond. Again, the above themes fall into this category. ‘I hope that the water sector will continue to contribute to our understanding of our health. That we will respect the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity. That we will deal resiliently with global change. All of this will only be possible if we work together. In doing so, we need help from the new generations. The world around us is becoming more and more digital, they see this as something very normal. But how do we find the balance? I think this balance is the key to a liveable planet.’
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