Report on the Lord Mayor’s Coffee Colloquy: Clean Water and Sanitation

From the Master

On 16th January 2024, colleagues from the Plumbers, Water Conservators, other Livery Companies, and City of London representatives, met at Mansion House for a Coffee Colloquy organised by the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators and the Worshipful Company of Plumbers.

Opening remarks from the Master Water Conservator included:

“Livery Companies all support their professions, standards, education, skills, and charity.  They are working for long term sustainability and the wider interests of society.  Livery Companies, through their education programmes and their charitable giving, need to support and nurture the skills necessary, nationally and globally, to tackle the sustainability challenge including climate change.  They are encouraged to share ideas, build partnerships, drive innovation, and take action, to help provide ‘clean water and sanitation for all’.”

Liveryman Susanne Surman-Lee and Court Assistant Martin Shouler gave excellent 4-minute presentations each, alongside a total of 10 speakers. (Martin had assisted Tom Flood from the Water Conservators in the design and planning of the event.)

Dr Susanne Surman-Lee highlighted the public health consequences of unsafe water provision and sanitation, and that these don’t just apply to developing countries but also to developed countries, especially in the light of recent flash flooding events because of climate change.  Such events not only overwhelm wastewater infrastructures, but floodwater contamination of farmland also increases the risk of food spoilage and foodborne and waterborne illness.

She went on to discuss the consequences of global warming on the public health risks associated with water systems in buildings, as the temperatures of water entering buildings rise, warmer water increases the risk of opportunistic waterborne pathogens such as Legionella, entering water systems in an active growth phase and with increased virulence. This poses a significant threat of serious illness and death, especially to susceptible groups in healthcare and care for the elderly premises which needs to be considered when designing new facilities.

The health and gender inequalities associated with the need for safe and adequate sanitation facilities for menstruating young women and girls was the third point Susanne raised as of particular importance in developing countries. Women and girls are at increased risk from attack and serious urinary tract and vaginal infections as they delay relieving themselves until dark. Providing all a family’s water needs also falls predominantly onwomen and girls, so girls more than boys are likely to be illiterate, adversely affecting their long-term ability to provide for their families. Available water sources are often not safe, with incidents of drowning reported, particularly for children collecting water. She concluded by stating that addressing SDG6 aims needs a holistic and risk-assessed approach to ensuring the wider public health implications are considered.

Martin Shouler, of Arup, provided a focus on the importance of water in the urban context, and how cities can ensure water security and resilience for all. Martin shared his experience working across Africa to build water resilience using the City Water Resilience Approach. He reflected that the majority of the impacts of climate change are, and will be, felt through water. He concluded that it is clear that there is a huge pool of talent in the City and UK which can help solve some of the most pressing water challenges for communities across the globe and some of the most vulnerable which requires a multidisciplinary approach including scientific, planning, engineering, financial, legal skills.

Read the programme and mini-bios on the speakers.

There were ~60 people in attendance, with good support from Plumbers’ Liverymen.

This event shows the Plumbers’ P&H (Plumbing & Heating) and Water Sector leadership in action.

Master David Adams