EWRI Leads Discussion of Water Issues at Conference in Turkey

February 21, 2013

According to the World Water Council (WWC), an international organization that seeks to give the public a better understanding of water issues and foster governmental efforts to address critical water issues, more than 1 billion people around the globe do not have sufficient access to clean water, and more than twice that number lack access to decent sanitary facilities. The organization, of which ASCE is a member, states that, because of this, “every 10 minutes, 10 people, including 4 children, die from water-related diseases.”

Underlining this state of affairs, a report issued in August 2012 entitled The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue and produced by the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, and Canada’s Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation warns that the political consequences of water scarcity could be devastating.

In the report’s foreword, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Ph.D., a member of the InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government and a former prime minister of Norway, writes, “Water policy experts maintain that we must respond simultaneously to all these [water-related] issues if we are to avoid a crisis of scarcity in many places in the world. Many places, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa or West Asia and North Africa, are already facing critical water shortages. As some of these nations are already politically unstable, such crises may have regional repercussions that extend well beyond their political boundaries.”

As delineated at the 6th World Water Forum, held in Marseille, France, in March 2012 and attended by members of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI), six important water issues confront the world today: water and sanitation; water and adaptation to climate change; water resources management; water for food; water for energy; and water for ecosystems.

Against this backdrop, the EWRI held the 6th International Perspective on Water Resources and the Environment in İzmir, Turkey, January 7–9 as a forum at which engineers, scientists, planners, government officials, and academicians could present and share information relating to water resources and the environment in developing countries, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

“The objective of this conference was to provide an opportunity for a high-level technical meeting in the area of water resources and the environment and in a venue outside of the U.S.,” says C. Dale Jacobson, P.E., BCEE, D.WRE, F.ASCE, a member of the WWC board, a former president of the EWRI, and a senior engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc., which is headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As Jacobson explains, “There was a lot of discussion about climate change, there was a discussion about drought, there was a discussion about floods and risk management—so I think attendees came away with a greater appreciation of various points of view in relationship to all of those issues.

“There were many highly technical, detailed sessions and presentations where individuals came away with possible solutions to their water-related problems or having their interest piqued to doing more research themselves. But everybody took home something different. I would say the conference, in that sense, was a success.”

“We had close to three hundred people registered for this conference,” adds Latif Kalin, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE, a conference cochair and an associate professor of forest hydrology in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “One of the biggest issues discussed seemed to be the uneven distribution of water. There are continents like Europe that have a lot of water and a very stable population, compared to some countries in the Middle East and Africa that lack water and have a very steep population growth rate. On top of that, the scientific community is predicting climate change showing more frequent droughts in different parts of the world. So the question on the minds of many attendees was, how should water resources be better managed?”

Kicking off the conference were keynote addresses by Vijay Singh, D.Sc., P.E., Hon.D.WRE, F.ASCE, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering and of environmental engineering at Texas A&M University, who discussed water security and climate change, and Olcay Ünver, Ph.D., a coordinator in the World Water Assessment Programme’s secretariat, in Perugia, Italy, who pointed out that water can be viewed as a thread that ties humanity together. (The World Water Assessment Programme is an initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.) Taikan Oki, a professor in the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, discussed nonrenewable water use and its implications for sea level changes, and Zekai Sen, Ph.D., a conference cochair and a faculty member in the engineering division of Turkey’s İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi, focused on issues encountered in managing transboundary water resources.

The technical sessions encompassed such topics as water resource planning and management; climate change and its environmental ramifications; wastewater treatment technologies; hydrologic and hydraulic engineering modeling; flood risks; coastal and marine pollution; wetlands restoration and protection; water supply and sanitation in urban and nonurban areas; and the effects of urbanization on water resources and water quality.

“I was very impressed with the quality of these presentations,” says Jacobson, who was a panel member in the closing plenary session, which discussed water security, economic development, and environmental sustainability. “We had a huge range of subjects covered in the technical sessions, but I would say water resources planning and management were probably the most well-attended subject areas.

“A great deal of the value of these conferences is the networking that takes place in the hallway. What happens is someone attends a technical session and they hear something of interest, so at lunch or a coffee break they talk to the person who raised the issue. The networking opportunities foster a great amount of discussion, even if it is just exchanging business cards and email addresses so you can further dialogue when you get home.”

“I would consider this a successful conference because there were a lot of people attending from many different countries,” says Kalin. “I would not say there are any agreements or conclusions reached, but there were some important points made at the closing [plenary] panel. One of the best comments I heard by one of the panelists was pointing us toward water management in the future. Because climate change is looming as such a large issue, the panelist said it is easy for us to blame all of our water-related problems on climate change, but [instead] we should do a better job of water management. I think that was a really interesting comment.”

Mustafa M. Aral, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, a professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Orhan Gündüz, Ph.D., a faculty member in the environmental engineering department at Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi, in İzmir, Turkey, served as the technical program cochairs of the conference.

The 7th International Perspective on Water Resources and the Environment will be held in Quito, Ecuador, January 8–10, 2014.

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