reflecting on singapore international water week

By Stacy Vogel Davis, Communications Director

If I hadn’t already had an inkling, I would have realized Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) is a big deal based on the opening session. A dramatic emcee encouraged a round of applause as she introduced Grace Fu, Singapore’s minister for sustainability and the environment. A recording of trumpets sounded as Ms. Fu entered the auditorium, a retinue of assistants and photographers surrounding her.

Following Ms. Fu’s talk about Singapore’s sustainability efforts, including the launch of the Singapore Water Center in partnership with the World Bank, water leaders from across the Asia Pacific region discussed the need for decarbonization, reducing waste and other sustainability topics.

Panoramic screen with an image of the skyline of Singapore welcomes attendees to Singapore International Water Week.
Opening plenary of Singapore International Water Week 2024.

Singapore is a renowned leader in water technology and management. With no freshwater resources of its own, it relies on imports, rainwater catchment, recycled water and seawater desalination. SIWW, held June 18-22 this year, was established as a biennial platform to share and co-create innovative water, coastal and flood solutions.

Dean Amhaus, The Water Council president and CEO, and I attended SIWW as part of the U.S. Water Partnership’s Water Smart Engagements (WiSE) program, funded by the U.S. State Department. WiSE is a two-way exchange that matches five Asian cities with U.S. cities to increase water security through sustainable water management solutions, establish long-term relationships to foster communication and build capacity, and increase the exchange of services, goods, science and technology.

The Water Council’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., had been matched with Phuket, Thailand. In fact, Dean and I had come straight from Phuket, where we met with drinking water officials to talk about their water challenges and how they might be solved. We brought two representatives from the Phuket drinking water utility with us to Singapore.

We started our experience of SIWW with a special meet-and-greet for WiSE participants. It was fun to meet people from the other cities in the program – San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Miami; and Hillsboro, Oregon, in the U.S., and  Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Johor Bahru, Malaysia; Cebu, Philippines; and Vientiane, Laos, in southeast Asia. Again and again, participants spoke about the trust they’ve developed with their partner cities and the knowledge they’ve gained from the exchanges. Although funding for the program is ending this year, many of the partnerships – including ours – plan to continue the discussions.

Six people pose for a photo in front of a Singapore International Water Week backdrop.
Representatives from Thailand’s Provincial Water Authority, the Water Environment Federation and The Water Council pose at a meet-and-greet for WiSE program participants.

The rest of the conference went by in a blur. Participants in the WiSE program spoke on several panels and roundtables, including a Utilities CEO Roundtable and a Water Leaders Summit (not to be confused with The Water Council’s Water Leaders Summit, now the Nexus Sustainability Leaders Summit). But as with many conferences, the most valuable work happened behind the scenes. We were busy from morning to night, from a breakfast with KPMG Asia Pacific to a happy hour with Ramboll at its new Singapore headquarters. We even attended the Asian premiere for Our Blue World, a new documentary from Paul O’Callaghan and BlueTech Research. (It’s a must-see.)

Dean and I hit the exhibit floor and were surprised and pleased with how many of our members had made the trip to Singapore. Some of these members, particularly large water technology companies, have Asia-Pacific divisions, while others were participating under umbrella organizations such as Imagine H2O, and still others came because they see opportunities in the Asian market.

Four people pose for a photo at a booth for the company Sigma DAF at the SIWW exhibit hall.
Dean and Stacy met with many members and partners of The Water Council, including our overseas member Sigma DAF and the Catalan Water Partnership.

Our Phuket colleagues also took full advantage of the conference. Here is a report from Suttipong Suwandachakul, assistant manager at the Provincial Waterworks Authority, Phuket Branch (translated by our wonderful translator, Benjawan Poomsan):

We were honored to be invited to the Singapore International Water Week 2024 from June 18 to June 22, 2024. At this event, we had a chance to attend the CEO Roundtable discussion where we saw how experts and leaders in the water sector shared their concerns about water solutions by using new technologies and innovations to cope with challenges that countries around the world are facing. I also learned about the goals and directions on climate mitigation, which is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to half by 2028 and to net-zero emissions to 2050.

Weerayoth Prasertsri, an electrical engineer at PWA Phuket, added:

At this event, I learned how countries around the world focused on the importance of water and about new technologies and innovations. I will apply this experience and implement what I had learned to deal with the water situation back home.

One thing that struck me about Singapore is how aware all of the residents are of water challenges. Anytime I mentioned why I was there to a taxi driver or market vendor, they immediately started talking about Singapore’s water challenges and how the nation is addressing them. That’s a lesson we can bring back to the U.S. indeed.