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Does the water sector need a Higgs particle?

The physics research community attracted huge publicity in the wake of the discovery of the Higgs particle this summer. Wim van Vierssen, CEO of KWR Watercycle Research Institute, asks himself this question: Do we, as water sector companies and organisations, know how to get people fascinated about our mission? In his keynote address this Thursday, 20 September, at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Busan, Van Vierssen will speak about the challenge of supplying all of the world’s population with healthy and safe drinking water, and the path he believes the water sector should take.

“We live in a world in which science is not self-evidently authoritative,” says Wim van Vierssen. “This means that we have to prove ourselves, we have to show that science helps mankind. We also live in a knowledge economy: knowledge is becoming increasingly important and is spreading all over the world. A third feature of this period is the growing pressure being placed on our planet. Problems like climate change, drought, urbanisation and environmental pollution can no longer wait for a solution.” Result: the water sector is confronted with an immense task. The sector itself is small and extremely fragmented, but it is also very curious, well organised and of vital importance, according to Van Vierssen. “The question is: How can we ensure that the resource efficiency increases, so that, as the world population expands, we will still have enough clean drinking water for everyone?”

Water Resource Efficient Society

Van Vierssen argues that the above question should also be central for the International Water Association (IWA). Driven by curiosity and pragmatism, and by matching demand and supply, new initiatives – such as the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Water, and the Watershare partnering model – must come up with answers. Other sectors must also be enlisted and, above all, IWA’s role as “régisseur” must change. “The more than 13,000 members hail from all countries and represent all disciplines. But take a look at their cultural background. Research by KWR and IWA shows that half of the members come from Anglo-Saxon countries. We all talk to each other about innovation, but we sideline Asia, South America and Africa. Also, there are, relatively speaking, many scientists at the table, but few members representing utilities, governments and agencies. To attain a (Water) Resource Efficient Society we have to change our ways. That is our ‘Higgs’, that is what we have to attract attention to.”

Keynote IWA Busan 2012

Wim van Vierssen makes his keynote address, “Collaboration in the water sector – do we need a Higgs particle?” on Thursday, 20 September, at 8:00 (local time), at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Busan, South Korea. You are warmly invited to attend this event. For more information, please contact Hans Ruijgers at IWA stand no. 520 or dial 0031 – 6 218 228 12.