Why a deeper understanding of the benefits of clean drinking water is in the public's interest

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Tue Jun 1 2021

Author: Guest contributor

In honor of World Environment Day (June 5th) we've invited a few field specialists who ‘translate science into on-ground realities’ that can support policymaking and nurture the glass-root community collaboration. We asked how they address issues directly related to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Here we're sharing thoughts from Tsair-Fuh Lin. Check out our new SDG6 hub for selected research content and more discussions around clean and safe water and sanitation.

How have you and/or do you work directly to address SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation?

Providing access to clean drinking water is one of the significant challenges Taiwan and the world face. Globally cyanobacterial blooms in surface waters and groundwater contamination are two major causes hampering drinking water (DW) supplies. My entire research focus has been on improving DW sources' quality by identifying and treating cyanobacterial metabolites and contaminated groundwater.

My team was the first to detect and solve many cyanotoxins and odorants problems in Taiwan’s DW reservoirs. The primary research outcome—monitoring and response frameworks for cyanobacteria, cyanotoxins, and odorants in DW systems— has been adopted by Taiwan Water Resource Agency to manage reservoirs and waterworks. Additionally, my team has been training and advising technical personnel of water utilities and management agencies on solving taste and odor problems in several Southeast Asian countries.

What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

The measure of success is very subjective, but an objective analysis of the finished water quality parameters can determine the intervention's progress for water treatment and analysis. The success of SDG6 goals should not only be decided by the water utilities and scientific assessments but must also include the consumer feedback on the finished water quality.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy makers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

Researchers globally work on identifying critical and emerging issues of water along with their solutions. The solutions to the problems can be shared among the policymakers and help translate the research into on-ground realities. As the policymakers understand the public response and behavior, the researchers should also focus on disseminating their research among the public in a simple manner through opinion articles and discussions with community leaders. A deeper understanding of the benefits of clean drinking water is in the public's interest, leading to a demand for on-ground interventions by the policymakers. At this stage, the researcher can help identify the critical areas for implementing interventions by the policy. The inclusion of my team’s research in the policy changes served as the basis for the amendment of Taiwan’s national drinking water standards, monitoring framework for reservoir water quality, and improving water treatment processes. My experience tells that policy changes, and their benefits involve long term commitment and cooperation between policymakers, scientific communities and the public.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

The concept of clean water has different perspectives in different communities and countries. The involvement of public opinions can help define and tune the idea of clean water in various scenarios. For example, taste and odour compounds in drinking water are more relevant for developed countries than developing nations. Research communities can help in devising a scientific framework for on-ground implementation. Scientists working on SDG6 must work with sociologists to identify the key interests of the public. Then these public opinions can be turned into measurable scientific methods for easy implementation and assessment of the clean water interventions by water utilities and national bodies. The synergistic association of the research and public opinions will reap the benefits of interventions for clean water.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

My short-term goal is to develop content and exchange expertise by continuing the studies on monitoring and treating drinking water. Also, I will focus on contributing to professional development by hosting training workshops for young water professionals. My long-term goal is to inform and influence Southeast Asian countries water policies through the Taiwan government’s southbound policy and global transfer of technologies among water utilities.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6?

To overcome challenges and successfully address SDG6 goals, countries should share their technical and human expertise. In recent collaborations with scientists from Southeast Asian countries, I feel good water quality remains a distant future for many communities. In my view, international collaborations between researchers, water utilities, and organizations working on SDG6 will help in disseminating knowledge in real-world scenarios. Technological know-how remains a significant bottleneck for many countries. Research communities from developed nations can address this efficiently by sharing advanced water and wastewater treatment technologies with less developed nations. 

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Tsair-Fuh Lin
About Tsair-Fuh Lin
Tsair-Fuh Lin has joined Department of Environmental Engineering (DEnvE) at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan (NCKU) since 1995, and is now a distinguished professor and Vice President for Research and Development at NCKU. His research interests include two areas, identification and treatment of algal metabolites in drinking water, and adsorption and novel treatment techniques for contaminated ground water.

Lin has been actively involved in several national and international professional societies. He is a former Chair (2009-2011) and the current Secretary (2012-) of the Specialist Group in Tastes, Odours and Algal Toxins in Water Resources and Aquacultures, IWA (International Water Association), the Secretary (2009-15) and Chair (2016-17) of the Specialist Group in Lake and Reservoir Management, IWA. He is now Editor-in-Chief of Sustainable Environment Research (SER), which is one of the fast-growing BMC’s open-access journals in the field of environmental science and technology. SER has been indexed in Scopus, Ei Compendex and SCIE.


Author: Guest contributor

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