Attending Singapore International Water Week and the Young Water Leaders’ Summit has provided me with new ways of thinking about first the different water contexts of various countries, and second, the role of youth in the water sector. Insight into both of these areas will influence the dissemination strategy of my PhD candidate research on water governance, as well as how I participate as a young adult in the international water community.
First, learning from and interacting with both senior and young water professionals from around the world has given me the chance to think in a more applied manner about the similarities and differences of my home water context in Canada, compared to other countries. For example, Ms. Grace Fu, Singapore’s 2nd Minister of Environment and Water Resources and 2nd Minster of Foreign Affairs, discussed the need to think about water security beyond just having an adequate amount of water, but also needing a diversity of sources to make Singapore self-sufficient. In Canada, the myth of abundance has meant that often water security discussions focus more directly on ensuring access to water for all sectors. What has been particularly interesting to consider in this regard is the role of agriculture in water security. The absence of space for a large agriculture sector in Singapore illustrates the need to think of the complexity water security when faced with agriculture needs and the added dimension of food security. The possibility to travel and learn directly about the different metrics and interpretations of these ideas allows for a deeper appreciation of the range and significance of challenges as well as opportunities facing the water sector. Concepts like water security cannot be taken at face-value. In-person conversations must happen to have a context-specific understanding.
Additionally, the chance to interact with senior and young water leaders from around the world has also expanded my understanding of the applicability of my own research in different contexts. In brief, the intention of my research is to explain how forms of decision-making that involve multiple community members from different sectors of society are legitimized when making decisions for water in Canada. Conversations with another young water leader, Iris May Ellen Yarisantos Calaug from the Philippians about two water basin organizations in her country – one that is legally appointed and another that is a loose network structure – has allowed me to think critically about different organizational formats of collaboration across contexts. Such international interaction at SIWW means that I can make better informed contributions to conceptual knowledge that can be applicable to a broader audience.
Second, both informal and formal discussions about the role of youth in the water sector have expanded my thinking about the purpose of youth in water resource sustainability. Often youth are told (and we were reminded this week) that the mere purpose of youth involvement is for networking and becoming better advocates for water issues. Although these aspects are of great importance, there is need for deeper thinking about the roles youth can contribute to taking action and making decisions about water. Not only do many young water leaders have innovative ideas that ought to be considered and implemented into traditional decision-making frameworks for water, but they also are the owners of the future. If we are going to work toward future water sustainability, youth are an important stakeholder that must be enabled and given access to today’s water decision-making processes.
Thank for providing me with this unique and important opportunity to participate in this international event and expand my thinking. I hope that opportunities for deeper youth engagement in the water sector will continue to develop in national and international contexts.
By Natalya Melnychuk
Water Policy and Governance Group
University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada