Saudi prizes recognise water scarcity pioneers

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Prince Khaled and Ban Ki-moon present the Alternative Water Research Prize to Dr Rong Wang

Five prizes were awarded by the Saudi-based organisation, Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water, at UN headquarters in New York, for work addressing the problem of water scarcity.

The awards are presented every two years. This edition’s winners received their prize from the organisation’s Chairman, Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, and outgoing UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon.

“Science has a crucial role to play in facing the water challenge,” said Ban. “This award will motivate more research and raise awareness of this issue around the world,” he asserted, adding that water and sanitation “requires investment and partnership and international attention and cooperation among different scientific communities and nations.”

The eight recipients of the prize were:

Creativity Prize

Dr Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland at College Park and Dr Shafiqul Islam of Tufts University, for using chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. The prize will be shared with Dr Peter Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology for a model that forecasts monsoonal floods one to two weeks in advance.

Surface Water Prize

Dr Gary Parker of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for advances in the scientific understanding of changes in river flows and, consequently, the functionality of river systems as a water source.

Groundwater Prize

Dr Tissa Illangasekare of the Colorado School of Mines for work that contributes significantly to the prediction of the long-term fate of pollutants in groundwater systems.

Alternative Water Research Prize

Dr Rong Wang & Dr Anthony Fane of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore for developing energy-efficient novel membranes to sustainably sanitise larger volumes of water.

Water Management & Protection Prize

Dr Daniel Loucks of Cornell University for developing and implementing the systems approach to water resources management.

Prince Khaled emphasised that confronting the water crisis requires developing better techniques for wastewater treatment and reuse. “We need to find ways to increase agricultural yields with lower water consumption,” he said. “New desalination technologies need to be aggressively developed. Solar energy should be promoted. We need to actively prevent land degradation, deforestation, ecosystem loss, and environmental pollution. We will not be able to protect the blessing of our various water resources without advanced technology.”