Dr. Glen Daigger shares experiences from the African Water Association Biennial Conference. As the chair of the closing plenary, Daigger asked the audience to envision what cities of the future will look like. He shares inspiring responses in his latest blog.

By: Dr. Glen Daigger, CH2M HILL Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer and IWA President

I recently returned from the African Water Association (AfWA) Biennial Conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. AfWA, a pan-continental association, has partnered with the International Water Association (IWA) to advance water and the water profession in Africa. This is the third AfWA Biennial I have attended, and I am pleased that each year, the conference is more impactful than the last.

I was privileged to chair the closing plenary—a program that aligned nicely to IWA’s Cities of the Future program. The Cities of the Future program encourages participants to envision the future, with the objective of thinking far enough ahead that one can envision current constraints being addressed, but not so far into the future that current actions are irrelevant.

During the session in Abidjan, I tested this exercise with the audience and then asked them to share their vision and dreams of what the future would look like to them. Their responses were inspiring!

The audience dreamed of a future when water and sanitation are available to all. Urban environments are enriched by water. Water is restored to and enhanced by water.

One attendee, a member of the Board of Directors of a large African utility, related his remembrance of the natural environment when he was growing up compared to what he sees now, and his dream that it could be restored.

As we talked about these dreams, we also talked about where these dreams are already a reality, not only in developed but also in developing countries. As the session came to a close, I asked the audience whether they believed that such futures were possible. The answer was a resounding yes.

Importantly, we also talked about what it will take to achieve this future – these dreams. Yes, it will take money. It will also take organizational reform, and it will require the building of much infrastructure. Nevertheless, all participants agreed that that these things can happen. To get there, the essential ingredients are human will, determination and leadership—all of which are present in Africa but just need to be mobilized. A good lesson to us all, irrespective of our circumstances.