The Year The 21st Century Began: Covid-19 and Water Quality

World Water Quality Alliance – COVID-19 WEBINAR

Wednesday 27th of May 2020, 14.00 CET

Having received an important amount of data as a result of the WWQA call entitled SARS–CoV-2 and COVID-19 Pandemic – A call to share what we can innovate and how we can respond and assist it was decided to organise a peer-group discussion. The goal was to explore how collaboration between interested parties could result in initiating of science, technology, innovation and enhancing of ongoing specific project work addressing the present pandemic and emerging recovery and prevention challenges facing society.

Among the  latest developments introduced to the attendees here were a Sentinel system for analysing pre-treated wastewater, the guarantees required in order to ensure an efficient supply of chemicals for the supply and sanitation of water, the issue of extreme WASH and the consequences of COVID-19 regarding agricultural irrigation, bathing water and water reuse. .

The intention was to describe the situation and offer examples of actions from Europe, Brazil and India whilst stimulating the participants to tender new ideas for collective efforts that may benefit from the involvement of the UN Environment Programme and the World Water Quality Alliance at large. Furthermore, the event was designed to act a catalyst for the creation of collective or sub-collective proposals regarding possible post-COVID-19 scenarios.

The webinar was the first of two virtual highly participatory events. This first one was to set the stage based on four presentations and in-depth discussions moderated by the chair of the Strategic Advisory Committee of the WWQA, Bernd Gawlik, JRC. As a second step participants are now encouraged to prepare, in the ensuing weeks, short videos of a maximum of five minutes in length, describing projects, opinions, experiences and suggesting ideas for future implementation which would be screened during the second webinar. The second webinar is planned for first half July 2020.

Following their inspirational presentations the four speakers, Richard Damania (World Bank), Andrea Rubini (WATER EUROPE), Eduardo Mario Mendiondo (the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil) and Mukunda Upadhyay (Oxfam India), were invited to describe what had surprised them most during the present crisis, what they believed were the most important issues in relation to water quality at this time and what could be the most effective role of the WWQA at present to assist in addressing the challenges:

Some stark realities were presented to the audience. There is much uncertainty with regards to both the causes, the dissemination and the possible sanitary responses to the situation. There is, at present, no vaccine, no cure and testing has proven to be inadequate under many circumstances. In the words of Richard Damania, ‘Lockdown has been the blunt reaction of an ill-prepared society for such an event’. The economic effects, and this does not take into account the possibility of a second or more subsequent waves during the late summer of early autumn of 2020, are the most dramatic since the end of World War II, with a drop of 5% in the GDP of developing countries and 7% or higher in more advanced economies. Some of the short-term effects such as a rise in unemployment and higher poverty rates that may result as well as risk aversion, together with continued and even increased investment in capital intensive production will face society with two options. Either, it ignores the potentially devasting consequences of the situation and persists in a vain attempt to maintain the status quo or the global community grasps may alternatively be perceived as an opportunity in order to improve a general ecological equilibrium, generating sustainable employment, resilient food systems and production and consumption patterns allowing supply chains relying on maintained and even growing natural capital. The latter requires adapting both traditional policy paradigms and educating the general public. This necessary approach to a Green and Digital economy was also highlighted by both, Andrea Rubini and Eduardo Mario Mendiondo, whilst Mukunda Upadhyay reinforced the general opinion by demonstrating, when discussing the advantages of Citizen Science, that ‘Hope is impossible without Cooperation’.

Indeed, the principal conclusion of this first WWQA – COVID-19 WEBINAR was that all the sectors representative of the “Quintuple Helix” (Public sector, Private sector, Research and academia, citizens and cultural interest groups) must unite in order to face the present and future crises of this nature. The questions and suggestions of the 76 participants attending the virtual event tended to support this view. Bernd Gawlik when summarising, reiterated that the exchange of knowledge is a vital element of a process which appeals to the deconstruction of hitherto rigid silo-based socio-economic and scientific practices.

To view the PDF version please click here: WWQA COVID-19 WEBINAR - Part 1

The speakers' presentations' can be accessed via the following links:

Eduardo Mario Mendiondo (the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil):


Mukunda Upadhyay (Oxfam India):


World Water Quality Alliance (WWQA) Activity Mapping and Webinar

Dear Members of the World Water Quality Alliance,

The World Water Quality Alliance (WWQA), having been impacted by the current global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other communities, is inclined to devise ways of contributing to solutions and responses. It is obvious that water plays a central role in human health. To name but a few examples, this can be as a trajectory of root causes as much as a preventive and even curing amenity but also as a post-pandemic source of vital monitoring data permitting the screening of the effectiveness of the societal response.

The WWQA is unique as a Community of Practice representing an enormous range of solid expertise regarding water quality, inter-linkages and feedback between water, environment and health aspects whilst also representing a bridge between data to action. We, as an Alliance shall therefore work collectively and together with you to explore the related knowledge and innovation work streams underway that is capable of assisting global communities to find responses in the short, medium and long-term. 

We would like to call upon you, as members of the Alliance, to share with us your inputs in the field of innovation science, observation and monitoring, etc. – those dimensions you consider relevant – concerning inter-linkages between water quality and health or related issues. Scientific and public media tell us about progress being pursued in areas such as detection of viral RNA in wastewater – which if it reaches scientifically rigorous standards and allows quantifiable relation to population in time and space may allow screening in terms of preparedness to pathogen hazards as much as pandemic response efficiency. This is just one example and many more will certainly exist.

Furthermore, the Alliance is considering an immediate data drive including (where possible in-situ information) but predominantly an Earth Observation (EO) approach to be applied to tracing water quality signals that can be observed in the environment and are attributable to an unprecedented economic lock-down. Not only shall we process resulting information to better inform the post-pandemic recovery action socially, economically and in normative terms but also employ the strong environmental signals as a baseline. Future SMART monitoring and reviewing of environmental state and trends will largely rely on a fusion of in-situ, remote sensing, modelling as well as artificial intelligence data. The current situation may allow for the first of a kind – low emission state - calibration of current and future models. Other similar innovative scientific research and data collection may co-benefit. As we work together to develop and share EO data, information and knowledge for global challenges (see call by GEO Secretariat), the Alliance encourages such initiatives and aims to combine them more systematically. This effort is undertaken within the context of the World Water Quality Alliance mechanism, in particular, experts active in these diverse areas.

The WWQA invites members of the Alliance to inform the Co-ordination Unit of any relevant examples of work underway in your realm that you would like to share and expose to peer discussion including collective exploration of where we can collaborate to upscale and lift off specific project work if applicable and required to assist society. This may, for example, include the use of EO to trace the water quality signal of the economic lockdown, it may encompass innovation science on water quality including pathogen monitoring and its possible use in prevention and post-recovery monitoring. In short, interlinkages between water quality and health in support of COVID-19 and other health-related monitoring, response or recovery.

Upon review and following members approval, the WWQA shall make your science, innovation and suggestions for solutions, interventions and responses visible on the WWQA website and other communication channels. We will examine requirements from the global community, as much as from our members, where there are pathways deserving larger project frames and where we can engage collectively for up-scaling, researching and demonstrating solutions and improving future assessments. We are currently working with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission and EureCat in planning for an extraordinary Webinar Conference on the subject for which you will receive an invitation shortly. The idea is that you will have a chance to pitch your input to a broad community of peers and users.

While our immediate concern lies with the health and well-being of the members of the Alliance, we also recognise that the issues that drive WWQA’s work through its various workflows will continue to be our priority focus after the current pandemic has ended. We hope this Call will support the establishment of a community of like-minded innovators and raise entrepreneurship in a scientific and solution-oriented sense to address what we observe and may anticipate for the future.

Responses to this call should be sent to, and Please provide a brief description of the activity, including institutional participants, preferably by 24 April 2020 in order for us to be able to prepare for the planned Webinar. We welcome your input beyond this deadline as well.

 View PDF document here:


With kind regards,

The WWQA Co-ordination Unit

The United Nations Environment Programme, which coordinates the Alliance, in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) hosted the Second Global Workshop of the World Water Quality Alliance (WWQA) in Ispra, Italy. The 2019 Global Workshop of the World Water Quality Alliance took place from September 16 to September 18. In what can be defined the launch of a new chapter in the Global Water Quality Community, 95 registered attendees from 30 countries and 62 organizations from supra-national to local level representing the public, private and research sectors, convened to organize the work plan of this highly-interdisciplinary and trans-sectorial community of practice. 

The objectives of the workshop were:

  • Take stock and discuss the way forward of ongoing Alliance activities such as the Africa Use Cases, the progress regarding the global baseline assessment and the work on plastics in freshwater
  • Agree on a roadmap regarding the official formalization of the Alliance and its governance by agreeing on rules for the election of Strategic and Technical Advisory Committees, gathering input from partners to finalize a declaration for Members of the World Water Quality Alliance and discussing the signing process for such a declaration
  • Draft a work plan for the Alliance for 2019 – 2020 with concrete commitments for contributions from partners within its various thematic focus areas (e.g. groundwater quality, health and cities, water quality and ecosystems etc.)
  • Deepen the exchange between Alliance partners by updating each other on ongoing workflows within their respective organizations and identifying potential topics and modes of cooperation
  • Discuss ways of improving outreach and mainstreaming ambient water quality into policy and decision making

The meeting concluded that the Alliance would provide governments and other stakeholders with relevant evidence-based assessment, scenarios, solutions and services on water quality issues. Globally, an estimated 80% of wastewater is released directly into water bodies without treatment.

"I am so pleased that UNEP has been able to catalyze the creation of the World Water Quality Alliance which brings diverse disciplines together to translate science on water quality into action. I cannot highlight enough the importance of the task at hand: because improving water quality is central to environmental sustainability and to ensuring healthy ecosystems, healthy people and a healthy planet," said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.

The Alliance will provide a baseline assessment of global water quality and will build on this with a continuous overview of global water quality and its drivers. It will also develop evidence-based products to inform improved global, regional and local water management. Facilitating a bottom-up approach to co-designing and developing products for mid- to long-term use and operationalization, its goal is to move data to knowledge to action with partners on the ground, jointly aiming at tackling the Global Water Crisis.