PGWI Discusses Philadelphia's Next Water Worthy Plan

Layla El Tannir, for GPA -- The Philadelphia Global Water Initiative (PGWI) seminar hosted by the Global Philadelphia Association in the offices of Reed Smith, LLC was comprised of representatives from all over the Greater Philadelphia area. Companies and organizations with members in attendance included The Food Trust, the Philadelphia Water Department, Drexel University School of Public Health, and the United Nations Association of Philadelphia (UNA-GP). There were two main guests who joined the discussion, Hariprasad Hedge, Senior Vice-President and Global Head of Operations of Wipro Limited, and Kusum Athukorala, Chair of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership.

“Water is absolutely necessary for living,” said Christian Morssink, Executive Director of UNA-GP, to start a conversation about how these organizations can work together to make Philadelphia a center of excellence for water, and if a public-private partnership would work for doing so. It was also mentioned that there is an almost invisible United States presence on the international water scene. Seminars like these are the key to changing that.

With key global players discussing and testing different models to help solve water problems all over the world, there have been some exciting developments in the field. Presently, the Dutch, Japanese and French are dominating the drinking water market, with Korean scientists strongly approaching from the horizon.

Views on the different models that have been constructed and implemented vary from country to country. Many of the people at the seminar were well traveled and well educated on the different water models used around the world. Morssink proposed a Dutch model that was showcased in the Netherlands pavilion of the Sixth World Water Forum in Marseille, France in 2012. Hariprasad chose an alternative strategy, to move from a “public, private partnership model” to a “public, private, community partnership model.”

“It is essential to get communities involved in addressing their own problems,” he said.

He went on to explain that the city of Philadelphia must work to get the community-based organizations involved in the water culture. He shared an example from his home country of India, where many entrepreneurs are coming up with ideas of how to gain access to clean water and sustain them at a cluster level out of sheer necessity. It is now in the hands of the public and private sectors to ignite energy within the community and to make clean water available and affordable to the masses.

Kusum, an advocate for women and water, suggested creating a solid foundation for the people to work from and shared some of the difficulties that Sri Lanka currently faces when it comes to water. Their main issue is an information gap, something that could be avoided with proper use of available technologies. Economically underdeveloped countries are not able to get rainfall data from their streams. This is a major problem as water quality is a bigger issue than water availability at the moment. It is important to invest in the right resources to prevent model failure in the future. Kusum stressed that it is important to always think outside the box.

Many see this as Philadelphia’s opportunity to learn from some of the practices and models that have been in existence for over 2,500 years and a chance to avoid running into the same obstacles. Besides drinking water, there are more diverse issues related to the discussion like water harvesting, school sanitation, irrigation systems and the effects of climate change and food security.

There were some key conclusions drawn from the discussion. Firstly, in order to have a healthier, functional water world we need to have clean governance and clean water. Bigger countries need to help the smaller ones, through a sustainable integrated approach from the state to community levels and, particularly, the academic level. The international community needs to consider the global effects of social modulation, industry problems and hydropower. The individuals or businesses looking to create change in the water system should consider integrating technologies that can be adapted to aid the diverse problems that the water world faces today. Most importantly, the public needs to invest in an attitude of change and to start thinking of water as the invaluable resource that it is. 

Photo courtesy of PGWI.