International Symposium on Water and Culture 02/2020 | Conference Contribution

  • Jonathan Bill Doe

    I represented BTU and Ghana as a speaker in an International Symposium on Water and Culture held on 3 February 2020 in Tokyo, at the Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS). The symposium was under the sub-theme: Learning from Water Heritage to Innovate Regional Development.

    Jonathan Bill Doe

By Jonathan Bill Doe.

Among the speakers and audience were about 260 people from 43 countries, including key institutional leaders from the United Nations (UN), political appointees, heritage professionals, and diplomats. The Emperor and Empress of Japan were in attendance to give their royal blessing for the symposium, where the aim was to help deepen human understanding of relations between people and water. The aim was attained through a critical examination of selected cases on water heritage, water belief systems, medieval water engineering, contemporary water culture, and country specific water policies from around the world with the sustainable development goals on water as a principal point of reflection. The symposium was divided into an opening section and different panel discussions.

The opening section had an array of welcoming addresses, remarks, and keynote speeches from reputable institutional heads. In his welcome address, Dr. Han Seung-soo, Chair of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP) and former Prime Minister of Republic of Korea, observed that water is life, but at the same water can also be a threat to life. We need to learn from best water practices, both in the past and present, in order to innovate current developments. GRIPS President Akihiko Tanaka stretched our imaginations into a possibly precarious situation ahead of humankind when he remarked that, “without water we cannot cope with the future we want.” The following were also unanimous on the view that water and culture need to be connected: H.E. Mr. Nobuhide Minorikawa, State Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism; Japan, H.E. Mr. Shinichi Nakatani, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan; Prof. Toshiyuki Kono: President, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS); and Mr. Shinichi Kitaoka: President, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Liu Zhenmin, delivered the first keynote speech. Mr. Zhenmin underscored the Connectivity between Water and Culture that support sustainable development in regions. The Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, H.E. Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, gave the second keynote speech. She focused on a UNESCO World Heritage site from her country, Angkor Park. She revealed the enduring ancient water management systems in Angkor Park, its relevance to contemporary society and indeed how modern technology in the form of Water sensor is used to monitor the park. This trajectory of weaving medieval water wisdom into contemporary society prepared the audience for the High Level Panel Discussion I & II, and for Emperor Naruhito, it could only be a kind reminder of his thesis on medieval water transport and his royal commitment to world water issues.

The symposium theme was further broken into two panels. Panel I had a vigorous deliberation on the sub-theme: “Visiting Water Heritage of the World – Seeking Better Relations Between Water and Humanity”. Panel II followed with the theme: “Water and Culture – Thinking Sustainable Regional Development through Water Heritage.” The panel members presented cases in the domain of water and heritage, water and culture from the USA, Canada, Brazil, The Netherlands, India, Indonesia, Japan, China, Pakistan, Australia, Ghana-West Africa etc. On my part, I spoke on the topic “Rethink Tradition, Boundaries on Water Resource Regimes in West Africa” for two reasons. Firstly, to integrate African views into the global resource regimes. Secondly, to engage African practices and practitioners in local resource management. It was clear from all the discussions that people’s relationship with water is not only practical but emotional, philosophical, and even spiritual.

Further information regarding the International Symposium on Water and Culture.

The trip was sponsored by National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan.