Global lack of skilled water professionals impedes access to sanitation and drinking water
Providing drinking water and sanitation (WASH) for everyone, everywhere is limited by a shortage of adequate water professionals. This shortage is even more important than the lack of finance, concludes a recent study of the International Water Association (IWA). According to IWA an unprecedented worldwide effort is needed to educate and train capable water professionals.
The study ‘An Avoidable Crisis, WASH Human Resource Capacity Gaps in 15 Developing Economies’, shows how the lack of capacity has many different faces in different places. The study was conducted in fifteen developing countries, namely Bangladesh, Mali, South Africa, Timor Leste, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Lao, Mozambique, Niger, Papa New Guinea, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
Biggest gap in sanitation
In general the lack of professionals is bigger in the sanitation sector. In the drinking water sector the major gap concerns jobs related to social development. However, the limiting factors for the development of sustainable water management are different in different regions; local situations have to be understood and solutions found to address them. The lack of human capacity, inadequate priority setting at the political level, and a lack of a comprehensive understanding of the regional and local water situations seem to become the most important barriers to progress.
Water management is a complex multi-disciplinary topic and water professionals, therefore, come in many different forms and shapes. Engineers, social scientists, farmers, accountants, plumbers, lawyers, communications experts, managers, economists, geographers – to name a few – are all involved in water management as ‘water professionals’. As water touches upon so many fields of expertise and know how – building capacity on water management is not an isolated effort in a few engineering schools. The water training that goes with the new water culture has to be built in the entire national education systems from university courses to vocational training.
Successful examples of development of capacities of water professionals at scale have two elements in common. There is a strong national professional association that is connected to an international water professionals network. These national organisations are playing a key role in education. The second core element is the close linkage between academia and practice. To achieve this goal it is important for local universities to be part of the solution to local and regional problems. Linking science with practice, universities with public administration and utilities enables them to educate students to analyse national or local water problems and find appropriate solutions adapted to local circumstances.
According to the study the public sector needs to invest in the WASH sector to provide a magnet to attract and retain high calibre professionals in the sector. The mismatch between supply and demand is one of the key factors significantly undermining the sustainability of achievements in the WASH sector. Appropriate public policies need to be in place to support job creation, which involves investing in skills to support labour supply and enabling private sector engagement to stimulate an increase in labour demand.
Training and education
There is a need for incentives and motivations to attract newly qualified and skilled personnel, and to retain experienced personnel within the sector and reverse a professional drain to other sectors. Low levels of access to and inadequate coverage of courses in tertiary education institutes make up significant bottlenecks to meeting human resource demands; professional vocational training institutes may help in meeting these demands. Operation and maintenance of water and sanitation systems are chronically and universally under-resourced, in financial and human terms. Appropriate training, education and skills requirements to operate and maintain specific technologies need appropriate assessment to significantly benefit the sector.
According to Pascal Garde, founding father of Global Water Jobs, ‘big salaries’ in the water sector are offerd by international consulting firms or utilities for projects in urban areas. “These projects require highly skilled professionals who are generally trained in developed countries where education programs in water management are available. There is a need to shift knowledge to developing countries. International water professional networks have a critical role to play in enabling such transfer”, states Garde.