21 October 2021 / Vienna, Austria
2021 Danube Water Conference: The Future in a Nutshell
Contributed by:
Voice of the Danube
24 October 2021

How does it feel when, at the tail end of a global pandemic, 250 water experts from around the globe gather in the virtual space to take a long hard look at future threats and risks, discussing how to innovate, invest, build and communicate their sector out of trouble? Actually, it was a treat. Inspiring. Motivating. And, after almost two years of not so splendid and occasionally locked down isolation, it felt wonderful to get together again.

Every success has its secrets, and the secret of the 2021 Danube Water Conference was latest digital conference technology. The Swapcard platform, chosen by the organizers for its elegant synthesis of online video conferencing, handy social media elements and a wide range of possible session formats, beat all expectations, creating a pleasant "as close to live as possible" conference experience.

The future of conferencing

250 registered participants, 80 contributing panelists and keynote speakers and two conference tracks added up to one huge success. “We have seen the future of conferencing”, commented IAWD President Walter Kling in his closing statement, toasting the audience with a glass of the renowned Viennese drinking water. The participants also saw the future of water, presented in a multi-dimensional view, with numerous highlights, and loads of food for thought.

Kala Vairavamoorthy, CEO of the International Water Association, reminded the audience that the climate crisis is mainly a water crisis, calling on political bodies to "revers the sequence" by switching from post-disaster rescue and recovery to proactive prevention and cure, and reminding leaders that "good water is good politics".

Communicating for change

"Do you Speak Danubian" was an open roundtable exploring communication and coordination across the impossible number of language, cultural and political barriers and borders in the Danube region, concluding unanimously that the water sector needs to stop talking to itself and start driving the political agenda.

One panelist summed it up neatly: “Tell the target group why this topic matters, why it is relevant to listen, and what they are supposed to do afterwards: If we take good care of the Danube, it will make everybody's life easier. Don't – and we all bear the consequences." 

Innovating towards resilience

During a plenum on exemplary utility management, Piers Clark, Chairman of the Isle Group Ltd. held a ten-minute world premiere, for the very first time publicly revealing "The Trial Reservoir", a highly innovative approach to financing innovative technology. Other approaches to plant a productive innovation culture in the water sector were presented by, among others, Andrea Gysin of Thames Water, Great Britains largest utility, and Lyubomir Filipov of Sofyiska Voda, the latter running a five year program to delve into the potentials of the thriving Bulgarian startup scene, using his utility as testing ground for carefully selected innovations.

Looking back and looking forward

Impressive, inspiring and, more than once, entertaining words came from a water world veteran. In a lively "Ask me Anything" session, World Bank Lead Water and Sanitation Specialist Gustavo Saltiel shared wisdom acquired in a career that spanned three decades and took him from engineer jobs in the Argentinian outback to the General Manager seat of a huge state-owned utility and on to development projects on three continents.

Concluding what felt like the shortest 75 minutes of the whole conference, Mr. Saltiel spread optimism: "We are facing changes and chances we have not seen in 100 years, and we have a fantastic opportunity to rethink the water sector." 

Summing up the rich content of three intense days during the closing session, World Bank's Winston Yu, also expressed optimism: "I feel that this crisis has brought a huge opportunity to change, and the Danube Water Program, working in synergy with other partners, has the tools for change. Can we build back better? I think we can." 

A surprise at the end

This would have brought the 2021 Danube Water Conference to a dignified conclusion. Yet instead, Walter Kling and Raimund Mair announced a party-crashing surprise: During the conference preparations dozens of colleagues, partners and friends had teamed up, producing a video full of emotional messages that celebrated Danube Water Program Coordinator and Head of the IAWD Technical Secretariat Philip Weller who is about to retire.

Visibly challenged to keep up his pokerface, Mr. Weller thanked the well-wishers, the 80 speakers and panelists, the 250 participants and a long line of supporters, replacing the digitally obsolete "I wish you a safe travel home" with a simple "Stay safe!", thus closing an exciting and inspiring 2021 Danube Water Conference.

Comprehensive reports and video documentation will be soon available on the Event's page.   

VoD - 2021 Danube Water Conference

The 2021 Danube Water Conference “Building a Resilient and Water Secure Danube Region” will be convened on October 18-20 followed by Business Meetings on October 21 (by invitation only)....