About the Author

Name and title(s): Robert Bos, Public Health Biologist

Areas of expertise: Public Health, Water and Sanitation, Health Impact Assessment of Infrastructure Projects, Tropical Diseases, Environmental Management



This year is the fifth IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition (WDCE 2017). Why is this event important?

The event is not just important, it is of growing importance. It is the only global water event that is designed specifically to address the needs and concerns of water and sanitation practitioners in low- and middle income countries. Substantial progress has been made in the extension and improvement of drinking water supply and wastewater management services in these countries during the period of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2015 we entered a new era, that of the Sustainable Development Goals. A number of goal posts have been reset. World leaders have now committed themselves to achieving universal access to services. They have taken on board typical human rights criteria in service delivery, such as drinking water safety, affordability and greater and more equitable access to adequate sanitation. The time of the low-hanging fruits is over, we must now reach out to those communities that are remote, marginalized or especially vulnerable. Many of these issues remain at the government policy level, and have not trickled down yet to the practitioners’ level – yet it is in the day-to-day delivery of services that the multiplier effect resides. Therefore the fifth IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition has a key role to play in the promotion of efforts towards achieving SDG6 targets on drinking water and sanitation and other water-related SDG targets.


This year, the theme of the IWA WDCE is “sustainable solutions for emerging economies”. What, in your field, are some of the most important aspects of this theme?

We see a world where rapid urbanization continues relentlessly, where great disparities exist in water availability and water quality and where energy is becoming the new limiting factor in water and sanitation operations. But also a world where improvements in governance are showing signs of impact, where technological advances improve our capacity to deal with complex issues and where we now have the SDG framework which, for water and sanitation issues, aims at overcoming fragmentation. “Sustainable solutions for emerging economies”, in terms of drinking water supply and sanitation, no longer simply means solutions that allow the present generation to meet its needs without jeopardizing the capacity of future generations to meet their own needs. We now see three clearly distinguishable pillars of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. In many cases seemingly contradictory issues will need to be reconciled. An example is the need for cost recovery to sustain utility operations, and the need to ensure the affordability of services so no-one is left behind. This requires context-specific solutions where human rights entitlements are guaranteed and where the viability of utilities is maintained – true win-win situations. Decentralization and subsidiarity in decision-making are critical, and that takes us back to the SDGs: the monitoring of progress in meeting the targets – very much a global effort in the MDG time – now requires that countries adapt the agreed targets to their local needs and that they develop the capacity to do their own monitoring. One can only manage what one measures, and by devolving target monitoring to the national level, countries are offered the opportunity to take the driver’s seat to determine their own development processes. This is critical for the success of emerging economies.


What, for you, is the most significant or exciting research area in water and development today?

Since the 1980s we have seen incremental progress in the field of microbiology and molecular biology, and this is now culminating in the field of biogenomics. We are rapidly approaching the moment when we will be able to routinely analyse and characterize pathogens in drinking water and in wastewater at the level of DNA sequencing rapidly and cheaply. Not only will this unleash a whole new knowledge area about aquatic microbiology, but it will give us new tools to better manage the quality of our drinking water, to better trace the sources of microbial contamination, and to overall enhance the reliability and safety of drinking water.  This will allow a greater integration of the management of source water quality, drinking water quality and coastal water quality, also with important repercussions for food safety.


Featured author content for WDCE:

Manual on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation for Practitioners (Now also available in Portuguese: Manual Sobre os Direitos Humanos à Água Potável e Saneamento para Profissionais)


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