University of Calgary named world’s first United Nations University hub for water

The University of Calgary has become the world's first United Nations University hub focused on water.

By Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

The University of Calgary has become the world’s first United Nations University hub focused on water.

The hub is a partnership between the Calgary school and the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, which is a think tank based in Hamilton.

It means they will work together to develop the scientific understanding, solutions and skilled workforce needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

United Nations University, the academic arm of the United Nations, “has chosen the University of Calgary as the home of the world’s first UNU hub,” Ed McCauley, president of the University of Calgary, told those gathered Wednesday for a signing ceremony on campus.

“It has very special significance for me not only as president of the host university, but as someone whose own academic career has been focused on water research.”

Kaveh Madani, director of the institute, said in an interview that the University of Calgary was a strong choice to be first.

“It’s growing in terms of their focus on water,” he said, explaining that includes investments as well as becoming a major player globally by recruiting some of the best people involved in water research.

“We have a shared mission and that is to use science to bring change to the world.”

Madani said the University of Calgary will be a role model for the rest of the world.

“We want better presentation than packaging up problems. We want to know about the solutions,” he said.

“Specifically speaking, the focus on Indigenous communities is one of the things that got us excited about the University of Calgary.”

The hub is to have four research areas: understanding changes in aquatic ecosystems, infectious diseases in a changing climate, environmental predictions for water sustainability and resilience in Indigenous communities.

Kerry Black, an assistant professor in the U of C’s Schulich School of Engineering, said it will not only allow researchers to come together, but also to share information differently.

“What we’re doing here in a Canadian context can then be spread more broadly,” she said in an interview.

“In particular for this hub is the focus on Indigenous engagement and partnerships with Indigenous scholars that really can be showcased on an international scale that will really show how we are approaching water differently.”

Black said it will bring together unique and diverse voices to tackle a challenge such as water in a different way.

Calgary’s location, she said, is also important because it has experienced both floods and droughts.

“We’re not seeing as much snowmelt that we normally see, we’re seeing floods that impact certain areas and then long-standing droughts and water restrictions,” she said.

“People are not necessarily making the connection to how that impacts everything around us, from the food that we eat to the way we engage with nature and the environment.

“We’re seeing that the landscape is changing massively and we’re seeing it here quite uniquely in a way that I think gives us an opportunity to showcase the urgency of the problem.”

Several others attended the signing ceremony, including Calgary Skyview MP George Chahal, who joined on Zoom; Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease; and Alexandra Bugailiskis, chair of the international advisory committee for the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health and a former Canadian ambassador.

“During my many postings abroad, I came to understand that one of the key indicators to development is a country’s ability to access and manage water,” said Bugailiskis, who worked as a diplomat in Ghana and Syria.

“Water is, indeed, at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as a crucial link between the climate system, human society and the environment.”

With the recent creation of the Canada Water Agency, she said the country is poised to contribute domestically and internationally to one of the greatest challenges of our time.

The partnership between the United Nations and the University of Calgary, she added, will provide a platform for researchers to engage with the world both in conversation and in action.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today