It was back in the Seventies that the right to access drinking water was highlighted by the United Nations Water Conference; while next week it is Water Saving Week in the UK when people will be encouraged to reduce their water usage. Looking back on the University of Hull’s engagement at this year’s United Nations Water Conference, Dr Stuart McLelland, Interim Co-Director of the University’s Energy and Environment Institute, highlights the University’s research as he reflects on the wider scope of our relationship with water.
This March, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United Nations held a Water Conference. As a mark of its importance, the event took place at the United Nation Headquarters in New York. When the last UN Water Conference took place in 1977 it recognised that “all peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic needs.” This is just as essential today. But it has become clear now that there are many more ways that our relationships with water are fundamental to delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Prof. Briony McDonagh, Dr Giles Davidson, Dr Nick Mithen, and I went to New York to share the various ways academics at the University of Hull are researching and engaging with people around living with water. We joined 7,000 other delegates who attended the UN headquarters, as well as several special side events, learning about and sharing our insight on the growing global need for solutions to water and flood resilience.
As the Conference emphasised, climate change and water hazards disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities. To tackle these risks, our technological understanding and capabilities need to be matched by a deep understanding of the human factors surrounding water resilience.
We used the Risky Cities project to show how researchers from the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull are using arts, humanities and social sciences to deliver innovative community engagement on water issues. We demonstrated how monitoring and evaluating arts projects like Floodlights, Melt, and the Follow the Thread Exhibition can be used to engage communities with issues like flood risk and climate change.
I was also able to share our learnings and expertise from SuDSLab, our green blue living laboratory on campus, in a session at the UN conference on living laboratories in which experts from the Netherlands and South America were discussing their own research. The SuDSlab project enables us to understand and reduce flood risk on campus by measuring water flows and stores. By sharing the resultant data, we are also able to engage with the wider community and explain how we can reduce flood risk and become more water resilient.
Importantly, we were able to make links with researchers from across the world, including South Africa, India, South America and New York, continuing our work to develop a new global network of partners in water resilient cities.
The UN 2023 Water Conference highlighted some of the very real and significant challenges we are increasingly facing in our relationship with water. But it also showed just how global the response is, with researchers, leaders, businesses, and officials from around the world collaborating to mitigate and adapt to the water risks that are increasing due to climate change.
This article by Dr Stuart McLelland was originally published by The Yorkshire Post.