Dr Gregory J. Wilson

Institutional and Organisational Development Specialist

What does your profession consists of?

The importance of international support to countries which are struggling for whatever reason. The international community use advisers like myself, the UN, and other support mechanisms who are there to build the capacity of the government to address its own problems. That support is needed for almost every task the government has to perform, the politics, the security, the law, infrastructures… Its main goal is to improve the capacity of the host government to do the job better. This profession is very wide and you can deliver that same support through different mechanisms; you can work for the UN, for International NGO, directly for the government, international financial institutions, etc. Personally I have had most of these jobs in different countries. There are lots of different ways of helping.

Why is your profession crucial and leaves an impact?

There are many aspects to international development; the most obvious ones are the capacity development, the emergency assistance, but there is also advocacy, the very presence of the UN as an advocate for peace and sustainability.

How is your profession related to this year’s theme: water?

When I was working in the UN I was doing a lot of water related projects, infrastructure projects. But of course, at the end of the day, it is hard to be involved in any country unless you have dealt with a reliable source of water, clean and accessible, because that is a basic human right, water is at the top of the Maslow hierarchy of needs; water defines life. You’ve got to deal with the essential before you deal with the luxuries.Water is an essential. Sometimes, for places like Israel or Palestine, water is the actual issue as the water supply is limited and is a conflict drivers. Most of the time, water isn’t directly connected to the problem.

Do you come across many serious cases of droughts when you are on a mission?

A synonym to poor countries is poor infrastructure, not just for water but also sanitation, roads, basic infrastructures… If you have problems with water, you have problems with health, with foods, with nutrition. Water is fundamental in most countries, it’s the single biggest social need problem that needs to be addressed.I would say that I have not been to a country in my career where water has not been an issue in some type of form.

Do you have an example of a particular scenario where you had been surprised and perhaps where you could physically see water problems that have damaged the society?

If you imagine a country in conflict where the insurgents fighting the government destroy wells so that the government and locals do not have access to fresh water. There, you are having ‘access to water’ being a weapon of war. They are destroying water supplies making access to water become part of their military campaign. Civilians are being included into the war; that is a crime. In the law of armed conflicts, you are not supposed to target civilians. What is incredibly disturbing here is that this situation has happened many times in multiple countries.

When situations like this one happen, does it leave irreversible damage to the community or area?

It depends on the amount of damage; we talk about post-conflict, we talk about early recovery and then we talk long term recovery. You would be surprised how quick conflicts finish and recover along with their communities but it is extraordinarily expensive. If you look at the damage the war has done to places like Syria, a middle income country that was developing at a fast paste, was completely destroyed by war causing multiple billions of dollars of damage. Someone has to pay to restore all that infrastructure, it will take a lot of money and time. I estimate that it will take ten to fifteen years to rebuild Syria.

How will Syrien inhabitants live during these next few years?

People are very adaptable, which is a tribute to humans, because they can adapt. We are talking about a very long transition where we are moving from post-conflict to recovery, and then normality or a resemblance of normality. People do adapt and they do survive and rebuild; they rebuild their physical infrastructure and their lives and communities, it just takes time.

Why do you think water is crucial to the people and to the land?

As a basic need, water is lifesaving. If you don’t have water, you will die pretty quickly. If you don’t have clean water, you might not die quickly but you will die of disease or survive with permanent handicaps. We need water for human consumption, for agriculture, for industry. Water is an essential input , we need it for all aspects of life, faune and flora. That’s why is Maslow’s hierarchy of need, it’s at the top.

What do you think is the main issue of water in these areas that come to droughts?

In places like Somalia, which has unfortunate experience unpredictable rainfalls, your rain fed system is going to collapse. You can grow useful crops in places like Soudi Arabia where they have water infrastructure, it’s not rain fed, it’s irrigated. It’s why we have irrigation, but your irrigation could fail. For example, in Afghanistan, they destroyed all the underground irrigation channels so they were reliant on the rain but the rain didn’t come. This resulted to droughts leading to low agricultural production, malnutrition and ultimately to famine. Famine means death. This causes forced migration problems and a series of other problems. It is a domino effect, the drought leads to a numerous amount of other problems.

What do you think of conferences like this one? Do you think it will make a change?

Yes, I do think it would make a change because it is about awareness rising. That’s the most important thing; if you have the awareness then that will help for later on.

Jeanne Pierre

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