Fresh off the XVI World Water Congress, Professor Gabriel Eckstein, who presided over the five-day event as Chair of the International Scientific Committee, said the conference achieved its mission and then some.
A triennial event of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), the World Water Congress provides a forum for international experts to discuss and respond to global water management, security and accessibility issues.
This year’s event, jointly hosted by Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and the National Association of Water and Sanitation Utilities (ANEAS), took place May 29-June 3 in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, with representation from more than 65 countries.
“From opening to closing ceremonies, the focus was all about sharing information and formulating outcomes in order to bridge the gap between science and policy,” Eckstein said. “And true to that mission, we have indeed already begun to improve communications and engender closer cooperation between scientists and policy-makers.”
“It starts with the statement of action we developed, and I’m happy to report that this effort is already gaining traction,” he added, citing the Cancun Declaration.
Linked to a United Nations initiative known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Cancun Declaration is a four-point call to action outlining how Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the Agenda (which calls for the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”) can be attained.
With assistance from four Aggie Law students who served as Congress Ambassadors, Prof. Eckstein worked hand in hand with conference organizers to host more than 100 sessions, 400 speakers and panelists, and over 1,100 attendees addressing a wide range of water-related science and policy issues.
For their part, the four Aggie Law ambassadors who participated (rising 3Ls Hope Shelton, Lola Wilson and Colton Lauer and rising 2L Philip Bedford) gained a clearer understanding of why the chasm between science and policy exists, and moreover, how leaders in the water sphere are working to change it.
Of the key themes she heard after taking in numerous conference sessions, Shelton said there were three that stood out: trust, bringing stakeholders together and accessible information.
“There must be transparent communication between all parties and more importantly, the parties must trust one another for the communication to be effective,” Shelton said. “Disseminating the information to the public and policy makers is just as crucial as gathering information because it allows policy makers to create policy that reflects accurate science and it allows the public to understand their individual responsibility, which gives the public an investment in water security. We are all in this together. Water connects us all.”
Fellow Congress Ambassador Colton Lauer concurred.
“I found my discussions with academics, researchers, practitioners and students from different countries to be most fulfilling, because those conversations exposed new perspectives, cultures, and stories that I had not known before, and made me feel closer to the global community,” he said. “It was an extremely humbling and fulfilling experience to be able to witness cooperation and discussion between people from all over the world.”
“The real work comes next,” Eckstein said. “We have to ensure that scientists and policy-makers continue to build stronger relationships and coordinate their efforts. This means helping scientists to translate their work into practical terms that can be more easily integrated into decision-making, as well as educating policy-makers in various scientific results. It also means ensuring that policy-makers convey society’s research needs and priorities to the scientists so that research efforts can be directed toward those needs. This is the gap that must be bridged if we are to ensure the success of our communities and environment into the future.”
This story originally appeared on the School of Law website.