I really wanted to get this post up to coincide with yesterday’s World Toilet Day, as it would have been especially apt… Alas, I am only human, and a human who has been traveling a lot lately, and has been left with a prolonged need to visit toilet facilities far more often than he finds desirable, as a consequence of said journeying, many changes of tap water, and encounters with more than a few shady sanitation practices, most likely…

Better late than never though, here’s a quick post to acknowledge that someone for whom I have a lot of respect – Professor Barbara Evans from the water@leeds unit at the University of Leeds – was recently awarded a global prize for her many contributions to the world’s sanitation sector.

With laudable humility and modesty, as you can see in her speech below, Barbara accepted her Award ‘on behalf of the whole sanitation sector’ then dedicated it, paraphrasing only a little bit, to ‘all the people in the world without safe sanitation and toilets’:

I should acknowledge that this clip was filmed not by me, but rather by Dr Miller Alonso Camargo-Valero from the University of Leeds. Miller Alonso kindly gave me his full (email) permission for it to be used here on Waterstink.

One of the reasons why I asked him could I use his clip was because Barbara’s ‘live’ acceptance speech was a bit less formal, and much more amusing – no offence intended, IWA – than her more ‘official’ acceptance material, which was also lovely, but which you can find elsewhere in full, on the IWA’s website.

Sadly the venue appeared to have been a bit echoey, so the audio quality in the above video is far from ideal. However, to help out with this, I decided to make a transcript of Barbara’s speech, and you can read this in full below:

‘This is a really… well it’s a very special moment for me. Piers Cross for whom this prize is awarded… in his memory this prize is awarded, was a very dear friend of mine.

And, what it makes me think of is that this prize isn’t really a prize for me at all; it’s a prize for the whole sanitation sector. We’ve been fighting for 30 years to get the opportunity to mention the word “shit” on the first day of an IWA conference. And I’d like to say that I think in honour of Piers, this is a big achievement.

So I’d like to dedicate this prize to the 4.4 billion people in the world who don’t have access to safely managed sanitation, of whom 2.2 billion people still don’t have an improved toilet at home, of whom about 890 million don’t have any toilet at all. So that’s where I work.

I was a bit puzzled when the award was… when the news was given to me, because I’ve never invented a “gizmo”. I’ve never developed a new treatment process. I’ve never solved the problem. But that’s because, as you will have heard earlier on, it’s a very messy problem. And it’s really all about tying together the right technology, in the right place, with the right money, and the right politics.

When I was a very young practitioner I was really worried that this problem would be solved before I retired. Sadly that’s not happened, But I hope that we’re all going to recommit ourselves to try to solve that problem in the future.

Thank you very much.’

Barbara gave her speech last Monday, 13 November. She’d just been announced as the International Water Association (IWA) Water and Development Award (Research) 2017 Winner. This was during the opening Ceremony of the IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Quoting the IWA’s press release for Barbara’s award, they said it was given to her in recognition that her career and research had:

‘… played a key role in developing effective strategies for securing safe access to water and sanitation, with a sustained attention to poor urban and rural communities. … [and] for increasing our understanding on community-wide approaches to tackle urban and rural water and sanitation challenges.’

The IWA also acknowledged that Barbara has been tirelessly ‘[w]orking to deliver solutions to global water challenges‘, and was ‘recognised by the international water community for … outstanding contributions to the practice and science of water, which have improved the lives of millions of people in low- and middle-income countries‘.

When I next see Barbara in person I will pass on my proper congratulations face-to-face. In the meantime I do recommend you view her 41-minute interview with my colleague Professor Dale Whittington. This video is on one of her favourite subjects, community-led total sanitation (CLTS) and it is taken from our Part 2 water and sanitation Coursera MOOC:

Lastly, you may also wish to follow Barbara on Twitter, where she has the wonderful ‘handle’ of @BEonthetoilet! With that, I’d like to close by saying, ‘congratulations Barbara’, and my thanks to the team at the IWA for recognising your very valuable work!   😉

Duncan Thomas

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