IAHR Executive Director
Under the pressure of multiple challenges, transformative action is rapidly reshaping the world we live in today. In the water
sector, this is being driven by vulnerability to climate uncertainty;
increases in water demand caused by population growth and
the rise of modern urban environments; degradation of the
environmental quality of rivers and lakes receiving domestic,
agricultural and industrial effluents; competition among uses;
economic fluctuations and geo-political conflicts. At the same
time, opportunities are arising through disruptive advances in
technology such as digital solutions. Countries are responding
to their water challenges by accelerating efforts to build global
resilience by adapting and mitigating climate change, protecting
and restoring the environment, transforming energy dependencies, securing food, harmonising uses and digitalising water
Water engineering underpins and impacts almost every aspect of our lives. It gives rise to options and solutions for improved policy settings, economic growth, as well as physical, social and environmental well-being as we strive for global water security. As countries accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), the most critical and the costliest solutions, all involve water infrastructure, technologies and innovations. It is estimated that water infrastructure alone, will require most countries to invest 1-2% of national GDP over the period 2015-2030.
In addressing today’s challenges, water engineering is a truly holistic endeavour. The complex interlinkages between different activities and sectors necessitate a system wide understanding from the harnessing of the sources in the mountains to the development and resilience of our coasts. IAHR is the only global water association focussed on innovation and engineering across all sectors of the entire water cycle. Its expert communities unify and expand the collective knowledge, as well as the influence and capacity of the sector to achieve holistic water outcomes. Water engineering is required as we deal with issues catching up to us from the past, such as aging infrastructure. Thousands of the world’s large dams were constructed more than 40 years ago, with many approaching 100 years. Considering the 50- year lower bounds of dam design lifecycles, massive engineering challenges arise regarding how to rejuvenate, replace, or remove. Water engineering is also required as we look to the future.
Almost all the world’s data (90%) has been produced in the last two years. This unprecedented explosion of data, the availability of sensors and computing power supported by communication networks mean that digitalisation and associated technologies will shape the way that water is managed, delivering much needed productivity gains, water savings and operational efficiencies.
Indeed, water engineering is a major contributor to the five accelerators identified by UN Water to achieve access to water and sanitation for all. This is by I | bringing innovation to reality (innovation should address concepts, technical solutions and processes to maximize efficiency with economy of resources), II | generating relevant information from optimised data for positive water outcomes; III | increasing capacity development; IV | mobilizing and utilizing financing for the most effective multi-purpose outcomes; and V | providing options and adhering to good governance customised to local conditions.
As IAHR’s recently elected Executive Committee embarks on its fresh mandate, four thematic pillars emerge as strategically vital. The first three pillars are:
Climate change adaptation and mitigation
Energy transition, Food security and Nature
Resilient societies against water hazards and disasters
The last transversal component, cutting accross all the previous thematic areas is:
Solutions to these priorities draw upon the rich knowledge of IAHR’s 30 plus Technical Committees (TC), Regional Divisions and Working Groups (WG). It is via these vibrant expert communities that substance is created, debated, disseminated, and shared towards various communities. In the coming years, IAHR will focus on pushing these frontiers by developing cutting-edge knowledge products and solutions; convening world leading events; whilst building action and synergy between key stake-holders.
Combining this capability with other global partners and especially with national water engineering organisations will enable ever greater exchange, as well as leverage the collective engineering voice to improve decision-making at all levels. This needed synergy should be used to question our engineering practices and to push forward innovative approaches that are needed to tackle the sustainability challenges faced by our modern societies.
It is testament to the energy and dynamism of IAHR members, that 2024 already announces a dense schedule of upcoming activities. Key regional water engineering challenges shall be addressed via four events from Marrakech in Africa to Wuhan of the Asia-Pacific, to Lisbon in Europe and Medellin in Latin America. Numerous TC and WG events and actions will also bring together thousands of experts all around the world; whilst IAHR’s digital on-demand content becomes ever richer. Preparations also begin in earnest for IAHR’s flagship event, the World Congress to be held in Singapore 2025, which has adopted the very apt theme of Innovative Water Engineering for Sustainable Development.
As we move towards the 2030 horizon, the engineering community is all set to play a bigger role than ever to research, innovate and implement. We must open up a world of technical and policy options for societal resilience, economic prosperity and environmental well-being. To make this happen, we look forward to working with you, the global water engineering, research, and expert community.