2014: Professor John Briscoe
Professor John Briscoe, a native of South Africa, is named the 2014 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his unparalleled contributions to global and local water management, inspired by an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people on the ground.
John Briscoe currently lives and works in the United States, where he is a popular teacher at Harvard University.
In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Committee states that Professor John Briscoe ”has combined world-class research with policy implementation and practice to improve the development and management of water resources as well as access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”
Today’s world is beset by daunting water challenges – 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. Professor Briscoe’s genius lies in his fusion of science, policy and practice, giving him unrivalled insights into how water should be managed to improve the lives of people worldwide.
In the mid 1970s Briscoe lived in a small village in the interior of Bangladesh, and learned first-hand how infrastructure for protection from floods and droughts could transform the lives of the poor. Later in the 1970s Briscoe worked as an engineer in the government of newly independent Mozambique, learning that you were a credible policy maker only if you could help resolve basic problems of building and running infrastructure.
“Very surprised and honored. I am delighted for the recognition this gives to thinking practitioners, of which I consider myself one. 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 policy maker,” says John Briscoe.
At the other end of Professor 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.
Professor Briscoe brought his experience of high-level policy with him to Brazil as the World Bank Country Director in 2005. Brazil was one of the biggest of the World Bank’s borrowers, and John 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.
Professor 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 of 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,” says Professor John Briscoe.
“It is vital to give primary attention to the effect on people who will live with the consequences of policies and projects.”
More about John Briscoe
Professor John Briscoe did his undergraduate studies in civil engineering at the University of Cape Town and his Ph D in environmental engineering at Harvard University. He has worked in dozens of countries around the world, and lived in his native South Africa, the United States, Bangladesh, Mozambique, India and Brazil. Professor Briscoe’s scientific expertise encompasses engineering, nutrition, epidemiology, demography, anthropology, political science and economics.
Professor Briscoe is known for his courage and pragmatism in tackling controversial issues, ranging from conflicts on international waters to novel approaches to integrating infrastructure, institutions and environmental sustainability in river basins.
As a professor in the schools of Engineering and Applied Science, Public Health and Government at Harvard University, his focus is on educating “the next generation of specialised integrators” – people who are deeply schooled in a discipline but also know how to work across disciplines.
John Briscoe was born in Brakpan in South Africa. He passed away on November 12, 2014, after having fought cancer for more than two years.