Getting back into the conference circuit

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Image: Exterior of IWA World Water Congress and Exhibition’s Gala Dinner held at the Øksnehallen.

By Dr Gillian Clayton, Centre for Research in Biosciences, College of Health, Science and Society

It has been several years since we’ve been able to attend any international conferences in person, but Darren Reynolds and I recently attended the International Water Association World Water Congress and Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark. This congress included 8,00o attendees, with over 300 exhibitors from all over the world to discuss all aspects of water. The overall theme of the congress was Water for Smart Liveable Cities, encouraging universities, independent research institutions, utilities, and industry to share information and work together. The congress theme aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All, and many of the talks and workshops discussed solutions to overcome key issues around water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH). There were six key themes throughout the congress including, utility management, drinking water and potable reuse, city-scale planning, communities and partnerships and water resource management. This congress was a great way to share knowledge and create collaborations around many aspects of water that we cover within the Healthy Waters research cluster.

The breadth of this conference was introduced nicely with the opening keynote given by Professor Jason Box of The Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Here Professor Box highlighted the need for actions to prevent or slow increases in global temperatures. This talk provided a great overview of climate change, stating that global temperature increases are disproportionately affecting the arctic region, specifically the Greenland ice sheet, which was highlighted in the first episode of the new Frozen Plant 2 series. Increased glacial melting in the artic regions are not only causing an increase in water levels, but the additional cold freshwater entering in oceans is affecting global weather patterns, through the shifting ocean currents. This has never been more obvious with extreme weather events are becoming more common, such as hurricane Fiona recently affecting Puerto Rico, severe flooding in Pakistan and the typhoon in Japan.

These changes in weather events are going to further exacerbate uneven distribution of freshwater around the planet, with the poorest nations suffering the most. Therefore, utilising alternative water sources for drinking and daily use, and developing technologies and solutions to effectively treat water with minimal resources and environmental impact is necessary. The research I presented investigates treating stored waters, such as rainwater or ground water, with an in-situ electrochemical cell that reduces bacterial load (such as E. coli), making it safe to drink. The work is ongoing with project partners Bala Vikasa/Frank Water based in Telangana, India and the University of Antananarivo and Sadabe in Madagascar.

One aspect the congress organisers were keen to highlight was the transformation of the Copenhagen Harbour over the past ten years. Throughout the summer people are swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding throughout the canals which cut through the centre of the city. Ten years ago, there were constant instances of wastewater entering the Copenhagen harbour, yet with investment in wastewater treatment facilities the harbour is an example of sustainable city living. The transformation of Copenhagen harbour provides hope Conham River Park and Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve where there is an ongoing petition to designate the areas with bathing water status.

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