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The guest was Tomas Sancho, Member of the WFEO Executive Council and Chair of the Working Group on Water (WGoW).

    Mel De Gioia 0:25

Welcome to Engineering Leaders mini series in the lead up to the very first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development in 2020. This mini series is being supported by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. My name is Melanie and my co host and our podcast’s resident engineer is Dominic. Today’s episode is on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 6, clean water and sanitation.

    Dom 0:50

Our guest today grew up in Spain and is a civil engineer. He is the chair of the working group on Water for WFEO and has been a member of WFEO’s executive council since 2015, and is a member of the Spanish Committee on Large Dams. He’s considered an expert in topics related to infrastructures, funding, planning and water management. Our guest today is Tomas Sancho.

    Mel De Gioia 1:16

Water is in Tomas’s veins. Both his grandfathers worked in the water industry, one in irrigation, and the other was part of the first River Basin Organisation in the world. Even his father was a civil engineer working in the water space, and Thomas would accompany him on many trips to his father’s works. However, it should be mentioned, Thomas is one of 10 children and he was the only child following in his father’s and grandfathers’ footsteps, but possibly the most significant push into this field was when he was a child in Spain in the early 1960s.

    Guest 1:55

When I was child in Spain, in the early 60s,


there was an outbreak of cholera, and I saw that the most important mission was to improve the water supply to the populations.


    Dom 2:07

As part of this miniseries, we’re talking about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, we’re talking about SDG 6. Can you tell us what that one’s about?

    Guest 2:16

Yes, they professional related with water, and our and other professions, because it was an international movement to reach that the water was nominated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. And there was a rich, there was a world that many professionals desires. And finally, one of the 17 SDGs is the SDG of Water Safety – water for all and clean water for all.

    Dom 2:51

I think it’s really a critical one. Not that any of the Sustainable Development Goals are any less than the others, but water is such a critical factor, it’s a part of life, particularly in countries like Australia. We have previously taken it for granted. But with our current drought, we realise just how important it is and just how precious it is.

    Guest 3:11

Yes, really because water is also related with other SDGs as the hunger and the safety of the population and climate change and cooperation. It’s under specific, but also he appears in transport. So issues with other SDGs. And it is quite important because without water, life is not possible.

    Mel De Gioia 3:38


    Dom 3:39

It’s very true.

    Mel De Gioia 3:39

And I’m thinking your origin story of why you became an engineer will probably answer this question, but what was your inspiration to align yourself to the clean water and sanitation goal?

    Guest 3:54

To see the extreme poverty of countries like Haiti and see the importance of water to improve people’s living conditions. I was working in Haiti during five years from 2012 to 2015, after the third world earthquake, and I can see the importance to solve the water supply to solve the few problems of this country. And I can also see the importance and the good effects of the Spanish corporations. I’m SSR of the Spanish Fund of Water Corporation, the most important bilateral water fund of recent years, dedicated to Latin America. And so


the importance of water to improve people’s living conditions. I can see that and it’s an inspiration for me.


And the other hand, the light given by my master in the international issues Jose Medem. He was former president of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations and also of the World Council of Civil Engineers. And they asked me to return part of what society has given me to the society on the associated issues of engineering. And so I was dedicated to that from 2008 until now, because really, water is very important and the international issues to cooperation, to understand that we are not alone in the world. And our capabilities must be dedicated to human mankind. And this is my inspiration. Really.

    Mel De Gioia 5:42

Yeah. So you’re actually seeing the fact that water is very much a foundation in communities in crisis. Getting the water right is such an important component.

    Guest 5:54

Yes, yes. Really,


without water life is not possible.


But for the living conditions for the women in Africa for the people to increase the welfare for the economic development, water is the basis. And so we must show the basis but in good condition for all the people and with a good knowledge of how many resources we have in each basin of the wall in each aquifer, and which people need the water to increase and to improve the living conditions in these areas.

    Mel De Gioia 6:43

Sounds like a very natural fit for you from everything that you’ve built up over the years.

    Dom 6:50

So, how are you as an engineer contributing to the UN SDG number 6? Are there any particular projects at the moment that you’re conducting to work on this problem?

    Guest 7:00

On the one hand, in my professional exercise, I am dedicated as an expert to works related to the planning and integrated management of Water Resources. For example, I was a public servant in the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation during nine years and after I was president of this confederation for ten years, and in the last three years, I have been coordinating the hydrological plants of the real basins of Spain. We are now in the third cycle in the context of the European Union’s water Framework Directive. And also I’ve been working in the updating of their special draft plans. This is one of my contributions with my professional company and with my work. On the other hand, in my associative work, which I have been been developing in the last 12 years. I have been the first chairman of the World Council of Civil Engineers Water Committee, which is part of human water system. And now I chair the WFEO Water Working Group. This working group was created two years ago in London. And we are now working all over the world with water ratios and contributing to SDG 6. Specifically this year in 2020, we are preparing a report about the contribution of engineering to this as the SDG 6 water.

    Mel De Gioia 8:36

What’s an example of something that will be included in that report?

    Guest 8:41

Well, in this report, we are compiling the contributions all over the world of our colleagues, especially the best practices, contributing to this. In 2019 we have launched a specific report about the best practices with Engineering contribution related with the drought and flood management. We have studied 19 case and experiences in Africa in Asia, in America and Europe. And


we have selected the lesson learned, the best practices and also the challenges for engineers. Because we have a very important role in order to solve these issues.


You know that


the drought and the floods are the most important natural risk in the world, for the humanity.


So, this is very important and in the context of the climate change, especially important. The number of people living at risk flooding areas will increase from 1.2 to 1.6 billion people by 2050. This is the position of specialised institutions. And the greatest number of weather related disasters is due to flooding, followed closely by storms. The United Nations agency remarks that and also droughts. There are many episodes of droughts around the world with terrible, terrible consequences.

    Dom 10:34

Definitely. And so I can imagine that benchmarking information will be a great resource in order for engineers across the world to be able to have a better understanding of what’s available or what they should at least be striving for or trying to achieve. Is that is that what the basis of that information is there for?

    Guest 10:53

Yes, of course. All the water resources management must be integrated and they are participating the whole society. But it is not possible to do good plans and to take the best decisions without the engineering works. We need hydrological and hydraulic models. We need the complicated studies to know the resources, the water resources that we have in the aquifers. And in the reverse, we must manage with public works, dams, reservoirs and channels, pipes. And for the engineers, for the energy what the resources are very important and we need water for energy but we need energy for water. And so for good efficiency we need the engineering works and then in the warm knowledge, and we are now applying many actions related with new technology and innovation. All those systems to know to transmit information to the warning systems. Many, many fields are open to the internet in contribution. And so we are working to know these best practices, the lessons learned and to disseminate all over the world through these international associations like the World Federation of Engineering Organisations.

    Dom 12:29

And are you seeing a change? Do you think that globally we are being better with water? That we’re treating it as the valuable resource it is? Is it getting better year by year?

    Guest 12:46

Sorry, I cannot understand you now.

    Dom 12:48

I was wondering, have you seen a change in the way that people are treating water as a more precious resource? Are we being better with it? Are you seeing a shift in the mindset that people are being better with water you know in the past few years and into the coming decade, do you think we we managing water better than we have previously?

    Guest 13:26

Well, things always are changing. And so for instance, in droughts and in flood management, well, traditionally, we are facing with a crisis based approach. We suffer the crisis, we suffer the incident we suffer a disaster and after that, we manage the crisis. But today, we are with a risk management approach and we are preparing before the crisis in order to have less damage and to be well prepared. And so this is a new focus that we are now applying all over the world and we want to disseminate. And so it’s also very important. But in the monitoring and in the knowledge we have now with the new missiles, new elements, we have the MGTs, the digital models of the terrain. This is very important to have new flood risk management plans. We have also a study nonstructual resources, native by solutions to manage the floods. Adding to the structural protection measures that we know before. And so, we are now contributing and the design, the focus and the instruments to deal with the drought and flood risks.

    Mel De Gioia 15:21

What do you hope to achieve in 2020?

    Guest 15:24

Well, I hope significant progress in the SDG 6. It is quite important for the engineers continue to contribute. So we will disseminate the first report of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations the Working Group on Water. This report was dedicated to the engineering contributions and best practices on drought and flood management. And we will prepare the second report. In this time it was dedicated to achieving SDG 6 on water, engineering’s contribution. This is the second report and we are also contributing to the new water agencies. We are partners of the new water system. And so, we will participate in the two workshops that we will be prepare. But I also hope with to this 2020 that progress will be made in water financing, because nothing can be done to move forward if the financial instruments cannot come. They are quite a necessity for all these financing instruments for reelection and these finance instruments must be aligned. And so, we will progress. We need public works, we need action in order to achieve the goals of SDG 6. Less talking, more acting. It’s my wish to 2020.

    Mel De Gioia 17:09

I like that.

    Dom 17:11

Sounds great.

    Mel De Gioia 17:12

Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciated your patience with us.

    Guest 17:17

Thanks for you. I only wanted to contribute.


I really feel the need to contribute in this international water issues because this is very important


and perhaps I can put my grain of sand in this field.

    Mel De Gioia 17:35

Excellent. Thank you so much. Thank you for tuning into Engineering Leaders as we prepare you for the first World Engineering Day on Sustainable Development, which is going to be held every fourth of March. We hope you’re enjoying our mini series which is brought to you with the support of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. The best way for you to show your support for our show is to tell people, either in person or write a review. Just spread the word. Seriously, it is that easy. We look forward to you and your friends joining us next time when we bring you another episode with one of our engineering champions.

Transcribed by

Tomas Sancho grew up in Spain and is a civil engineer.

He is the Chair of the Working Group on Water for WFEO. He has also been a member of the WFEO’s Executive Council since 2015 and is member a of the Spanish Committee on Large Dams.

He is considered an expert in topics related to infrastructures funding, planning and water management.