Guest blog: Alex Whitebrook at WYPW and the Forum

Arriving in Brasilia for the 8th World Water Forum, the intense heat and dry environment immediately brought the scarcity of water to mind. As a city that has long dealt with its own water problems, the Forum brought a sense of irony to mind but created a great opportunity to help resolve existing issues.

Sponsored by the World Youth Parliament for Water, the weekend before the forum marked the beginning of the 4th General Assembly that lasted throughout the week. Delegates from 35 different countries spent the days getting to know each other and participating in professional development workshops. One particularly empowering workshop included a discussion on the importance of storytelling in your professional life. Tom Llewellin, Communications Officer at the International Secretariat for Water, led us through the planning of a good story, focusing on the importance of emotion to connect to our audience. Each member of the Youth Parliament shared their own story, helping each other gain a deeper understanding of our motivations.

The Forum itself was an interesting experience. Unlike the World Water Congress, an event that occurs every two years between the larger World Water Forum, disorganisation was evident at every turn. Many delegates and speakers were unable to attend due to visa issues, there was a limited variety of public and private representation, there was no public Wi-Fi in the Expo area, and worst of all – there was very little availability of water!

However, participants were not there to complain about the organisation but to engage each other in assessing the international state of the water sector. The Swiss delegation was certainly one of the most active stakeholders at the forum, promoting their cleverly branded policy of ‘Blue Peace’ to facilitate the open discussion of transboundary water management issues. This reflected the generally political atmosphere of the Forum – another point of contrast to the World Water Congress, where there was a far stronger focus on scientific findings.

Despite the politicised environment, and thanks to the Forum being one of the water industry’s foremost events, there was considerable private sector representation. One company to take note of brought a fresh perspective to the Forum; Suez was present to promote protections of the ocean. Preservation of the oceans, though it is an important issue, was not a huge concern of the majority of forum-goers. Suez highlighted their position as vitally important private player in the water industry, especially in dealing with water treatment for the protection of our oceans. They propose a circular system of waste treatment in cities, and offered policy solutions for water management at many levels.

On the public front many governments were represented, though fewer than you might think. The big players in the water industry such as the Dutch had a massive presence, as did those behind massive water infrastructure like the Chinese, and even those in extremely water scarce regions, such as Morocco. Sadly, many countries were not represented, such as Ethiopia that is currently realising an enormous achievement in the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, whilst also creating new conflicts as consequence. Those that were present, however, were very active. One of the largest pavilions to take note of on the Forum was that of the Senegalese, who have been given the task of hosting the next World Water Forum.

Throughout the week, drumming could be heard coming from their pavilion. Representatives gave many presentations on the capabilities of the Senegal water sector. The delegates of Senegal put their best foot forward to gather excitement for the 9th World Water Forum, in Dakar 2021. One can only hope that it will be better organised and have an even wider array of public and private representation compared to Brasílía.

This is a guest blog entry from WYPW participant Alex Whitebrook (Australia), who was elected to represent Oceania during the event. Opinions expressed are his own.