Sandra Postel named Stockholm Water Prize Laureate 2021
Sandra Postel receives the world’s most prestigious water award, the Stockholm Water Prize. Her groundbreaking work has paved the way for new approaches that help the world address problems such as water scarcity, climate change and the loss of freshwater biodiversity.
On World Water Day, 22 March, SIWI announced that Sandra Postel will be awarded the 2021 Stockholm Water Prize, often described as the Nobel Prize of water.
Sandra Postel became a well-known name in 1992 when she published the book Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, which revolutionized how many people looked at water issues. Postel was one of the first to warn about a global water crisis in the making and to call for conservation of water-based ecosystems. The book appeared in eight languages and was turned into a television documentary in the United States.
Since then, Postel has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of global water threats, not least how global warming disrupts the water cycle and how our water use and management degrade freshwater ecosystems. Many of the risks she warned of 30 years ago have unfortunately materialized: water scarcity is expanding, food security is increasingly jeopardized, freshwater life is disappearing, and water-related disasters are growing in number and intensity. At the same time, the solutions Postel has presented in her books and articles and through her Global Water Policy Project are increasingly being turned into practice across the world.
In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee says: “Sandra Postel is a world leading authority on water scarcity and one of the world’s greatest water communicators and educators. No one has exhibited more commitment, capacity, courage, and perseverance to address far-ranging and critical water issues that affect both human and natural ecosystems. Her work has been instrumental in shifting both public and professional awareness about the water crisis.”
Sandra Postel describes receiving the award as “the honour of a lifetime.” “My goal has been to better understand how we can meet humanity’s needs for water while at the same time protect the freshwater ecosystems that sustain the web of life of which we are a part.” Postel added: “I am grateful that the Prize exists, because it shines a light for the world on just how important freshwater is to life on this planet and to our societies.”
In Postel’s view, this kind of raised awareness is exactly what the world needs right now. “Engineers have done a marvelous job expanding access to water, but many people are not aware of where their water comes from and how vulnerable those water sources are. We need to figure out how we can shrink our personal and societal water footprints and return some water to nature,” she says.
Sandra Postel served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society from 2009 through 2015, which afforded an opportunity, she said, “to broaden the community of concern about water and engage many more people in building a water-secure world.”
Postel sees many innovative solutions across the world, where people are starting to manage water more sustainably, but these initiatives must become much better known and turned into the new norm. Her most recent book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, focuses on many of these inspiring examples – such as farmers and ranchers who shift to practices that improve soil health, and cities that invest in green infrastructure to recharge groundwater and prevent urban flooding.
“These nature-based solutions offer a way to solve multiple problems simultaneously and could be used much more widely. We need to learn from what is working, adapt these solutions to different circumstances, and scale them up,” Postel said. Once people see this potential, I think it will unleash a lot of creativity.”
The Stockholm Water Prize is awarded by SIWI in cooperation with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and will be presented by the Swedish King H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf at a royal ceremony on 25 August, during World Water Week.