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John Briscoe was honored for his contributions to global and local water management
John Briscoe, a native of South Africa, was named the 2014 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his contributions to global and local water management, inspired by a commitment to improving the lives of people around the world. Briscoe currently lives and works in the U.S., where he is a professor at Harvard University.
Daunting water challenges beset today’s world — human water security and biodiversity are at risk, global demand for water is soaring, and droughts and floods cause deadly disasters. These challenges cannot be met on one front alone. Briscoe fuses science, policy and practice, giving him insights into how water should be managed to improve the lives of people worldwide.
“At the end of the day, it is what happens on the ground that matters. All policies must be judged by whether they make a difference on the ground. I believe that the years I spent working at the micro level is what enables me to be an effective policymaker,” Briscoe said.
In the mid 1970s, Briscoe lived in a small village in the interior of Bangladesh, and learned firsthand how infrastructure for protection from floods and droughts could transform the lives of the poor. Later in the 1970s, he worked as an engineer in the government of newly independent Mozambique, learning that you were a credible policymaker only if you could help resolve basic problems of building and running infrastructure.
At the other end of Briscoe’s spectrum of accomplishments is the 2003 Water Strategy for the World Bank. This strategy provided a new, creative and enduring benchmark for global understanding of the need for both better infrastructure and improved institutions. The strategy has had implications far beyond the water sector, helping to ensure that developing and emerging countries get a stronger voice in global governance.
Briscoe brought his experience with high-level policy to Brazil as the World Bank Country Director in 2005. Brazil was one of the biggest World Bank borrowers, and Briscoe was praised for bridging the divide between sound environmental management and economic development objectives in the Amazon and other parts of this rapidly developing nation.
Briscoe has become known for his passionate commitment to sustainable economic development, his disrespect for constructed boundaries between sectors and people, and for his insistence that the voice of people who are affected — from the poorest farmers, to the private sector, to political leaders — be heard.
“It is vital to give primary attention to the effect on people who will live with the consequences of policies and projects. Equally important is the voice of political leaders who have to take account of all of their people and who have to make difficult choices among competing priorities,” he said.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, will present the prize to Briscoe at a Royal Award Ceremony during 2014 World Water Week in Stockholm on Sept. 4.