Behind the scenes at World Water Week: Shaping solutions to global water challenges

Monday, September 25, 2017

The following story was written by Sabrina Li, water student and MSc Candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo.

World Water Week, an annual international water conference organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, was held in Stockholm, Sweden over the summer from August 27, to September 1. The theme of this year’s conference, “Water and Waste, Reduce and Reuse,” spanned discussion on wastewater and the circular economy, the impact of textile production on water, water and sanitation in developing countries, and the role of gender in water management. I attended the conference as a volunteer, which allowed me to go behind the scenes of the conference and attend several engaging seminars, interviews and events.

Sabrina Li

Ready for a week of volunteering in front of Norra Latin, one of the conference venues where sessions and volunteering meetings were held.

One of the highlights of World Water Week was the opening ceremony, which featured a diverse panel of speakers including: Sweden’s first and only astronaut in space, Professor Christer Fugelstang; Sweden’s Minister of Environment, Karolina Skorg; 2017 Stockholm Water Prize winner, Professor Stephen McCaffrey; and the UN General Assembly President, Peter Thomson. Professor McCaffrey spoke about the need for cooperation through written regulations to minimize water-related conflicts. Both Minister Karolina Skorg and President Peter Thomson spoke about the importance of sustainable water management (SDG Goal 6) in achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable development goals, such as education access, gender equality, and sustainable development. Astronaut Christer Fugelsang provided an interesting perspective of water from his experience in space. He described water scarcity at the International Space Station and the value of water reuse systems in space for growing food and ensuring a sustainable drinking water supply.

opening ceremony WW

Opening Ceremony attended by hundreds of delegates from around the world.  

As a volunteer, I assisted the coordination of SIWI Sofa, a daily live interview event that was also filmed on camera and is now made available online. One of the interviews on microplastic pollution in freshwater systems was of particular interest to me, as I co-founded Polygone, a project supported by the 2017 AquaHacking competition, a partnership between the Water Institute and the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, and Velocity Science that aims to remove microplastics from water during the laundry cycle. Representatives from the Plastic Soup Foundation and UNESCO both spoke about the increasing need for awareness and research on microplastics. Scientific knowledge gaps exist in both government monitoring and public awareness of these emerging pollutants, particularly in developing countries.

Sofa Interviews, World Water Week

SIWI Sofa Interviews.

The best part of World Water Week was having the opportunity to meet and connect with people from all over the world that are passionate about water. Graduate students, engineers, scientists, and activists with a water-related background were part of the volunteering or young professionals group. I was pleased to meet so many Canadians at the conference and to be invited to the Canadian Embassy in Sweden for afternoon “fika” –  the Swedish concept of a coffee break that includes sweets and good company to help relax and unwind every few hours from work. There, I met many individuals from all over Canada that were actively involved in water-related work both in Canada and abroad.

Delegates at World Water Week

Canadian World Water Week delegates at the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm.

World Water Week ended for me on a high note. Aside from attending several interesting and unique sessions (find out more about the week here), I was delighted to be part of an amazing team and was fortunate to have connected with other water-experts. Thank you, Stockholm, for a fantastic world water week experience, new friendships, and beautiful views near where the land and water meets. Until we meet again! 

Stockholm at night

Beautiful view of Stockholm at night.