News.Dec 06, 2023

Thank you, Malin Falkenmark

The water world has lost one of its greatest advocates and strongest voices. At SIWI, we have lost an extraordinary friend and colleague. It is with great sadness we receive news that Professor Malin Falkenmark has passed away.

Professor Malin Falkenmark was a globally acclaimed water expert and a true pioneer in her field. She served as Senior Scientific Advisor to the Stockholm International Water Institute, and she was a leading contributor to SIWI’s scientific agenda.

A distinguished career

Three decades after the point in life when most people start to enjoy their retirement, Prof. Falkenmark continued to work tirelessly to bring important water issues to the world’s attention. She continued to write, lecture, and be a prominent advocate for water throughout her entire life.

“During her incredible career, Malin has made astonishing contributions to the water world. At SIWI we will remember her with fondness and appreciation, and while I personally never had the opportunity to work with her, I have been inspired by her work and her passion. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones,” says Karin Gardes, acting Executive Director at SIWI.

“During her incredible career, Malin has made astonishing contributions to the water world. At SIWI we will remember her with fondness and appreciation.”

Karin Gardes, acting Executive Director, SIWI

Malin Falkenmark was a world-renowned Professor of Applied and International Hydrology. She spent most of her scientific career as the Executive Secretary of the National Committee for UNESCO’s International Hydrological Decade/Programme, housed by the Natural Science Research Council of Sweden. During this time, she introduced the concepts of green and blue water, for which she is best known, as well as the water scarcity/water crowding indicator. These achievements will continue to foster and impact the water world, maintaining Prof. Falkenmark’s legacy long after today.

Prof. Falkenmark had many high-level posts throughout her life, such as: the Rapporteur General of the United Nations Water Conference Mar del Plata (1977), World Bank Consultant with special responsibility regarding the looming water scarcity (1988-92), member of the UN Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development and the UN Millennium Project Task Force for Environmental Sustainability, member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Global Water partnership, and Scientific Advisor to the Global Environment Facility and the Comprehensive Freshwater Assessment of the World.

Malin Falkenmark talking with 2 other people from the back in 2000Malin Falkenmark in 2000

Her significant research is eternalized in over 400 influential publications. In 2008, she co-authored the ground-breaking article Stationarity Is Dead: Whither Water Management?, which forever changed how water management is perceived. In the article, the authors argue that due to human impact on the Earth’s climate, the water cycle has become so unpredictable that we must abandon the idea that systems for water management operate within stationary contexts. In short, we must rethink water management in its entirety.

“Having had the privilege to serve at SIWI together with Malin, I cannot stress enough her importance – not only as a mentor to me, but for SIWI and the world of water at large. She was a true influencer, constantly sharing her wealth of knowledge and countless scientific articles with me. She was also always eager to hear what was going on in the international arena,” says Torgny Holmgren, former Executive Director at SIWI, who worked alongside Prof. Falkenmark for many years.

“She was a true influencer, constantly sharing her wealth of knowledge and countless scientific articles with me.”

Torgny Holmgren, former Executive Director, SIWI

Dedicated and passionate

After her formal retirement in 1991, Prof. Falkenmark was connected to the Department of Systems Ecology at Stockholm University. In 2007, she joined the Stockholm Resilience Center as a guest scientist.

She was also instrumental in shaping SIWI, where she was Chair of the Scientific Programme Committee from 1991- 2003. She helped establish the now global platform, the annual Stockholm Water Symposium/ World Water Week, where she would always be one of the most dedicated and passionate participants, eager to share and absorb knowledge. Her sharp intellect, curiosity, and sense of duty has influenced generations of water experts, and her extraordinary ability to explain complex water-related issues has made them comprehensible to a wide audience.

“Malin has been instrumental in my professional development at SIWI and was just such a constant presence that it was easy to take for granted she would always be around,” says Kerry Schneider, Senior programme manager at SIWI.

“Malin was just such a constant presence that it was easy to take for granted she would always be around.”

Kerry Schneider, Senior programme manager, SIWI.
Malin Falkenmark giving a talk at World Water Week 2013Malin Falkenmark at World Water Week 2013

In recent years, Prof. Falkenmark spent much of her time researching how Africa’s agriculture could benefit from an increased focus on green water – the moisture trapped in the soil – to become more sustainable and resilient. She proposed that effectively managing this resource is crucial to the future of sustainable farming in Africa, with the potential to significantly boost food security across the continent. Improved food production would in turn, reduce the need for food importation, which will create jobs and help stimulate local and national economies.

“Malin really brought colour to her work. She glowed with passion for the topics which she worked on and shared a warmth for the people that she worked with, always interested to provide well considered and thoughtful input to a question from a colleague. But importantly she brought colour to the world of water. As a traffic light system conveys complex topics in a simple to understand and intuitive way, so too did her distinction between blue and green water help us understand a complex part of the hydrological cycle”, says Anton Earle, Director at SIWI’s Africa Regional Centre.

“She brought colour to the world of water. As a traffic light system conveys complex topics in a simple to understand and intuitive way, so too did her distinction between blue and green water help us understand a complex part of the hydrological cycle.”

Anton Earle, Director Africa Regional Centre, SIWI

A legacy for younger generations

While being one of the most senior water experts in the world, Prof. Falkenmark never failed to stress the importance of engaging young people in the struggle for a more sustainable future. After being awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize in 2018, she used the prize money to organize a youth workshop during World Water Week the following year. The workshop resulted in a youth statement about climate change that was sent to the UN General Assembly and COP25.

Prof. Falkenmark leaves behind a void in the world of water expertise. She will be remembered for her invaluable contributions towards a world where water is properly understood, respected for its value, and utilized in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of people and nature alike. She will be remembered as one of the water sector’s most influential, dedicated, and charismatic individuals. For us at SIWI, she will also be remembered as a dear friend and valued colleague. She will forever be part of the SIWI family she helped create.