Empowering Communities through Decentralised Water Treatment: Insights from our Symposium


On the 19th of October, we hosted a mini-symposium at the Advanced Research Centre, uniting several of our collaborators from North and South America working alongside us on several Royal Academy of Engineering-funded research projects in the field of decentralised water treatment technologies. The symposium featured a diverse agenda where researchers from the UK, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico shared their insights, experiences, and the challenges involved in developing and implementing these technologies in regions characterised by varying socio-economic landscapes.

In the morning session, Prof.  Sloan (UofG) discussed the global significance of decentralised treatment technologies and the need for structural changes in the water sector to address the consequences of climate change in both high and low-income countries. The symposium’s discussions took a turn when Dr Jill Robbie (UofG) delved into the intricate policy landscape of decentralised water technologies, drawing lessons from Scotland’s own experience. She touched upon the proposal currently under consideration in the Scottish Parliament, examining water as a fundamental human right. This opened the discussion about the consequences of providing water to remote communities in a world where water becomes an inherent human right—will this empower communities? What will be the consequences for the water sector?

During the afternoon sessions, our focus expanded beyond Scottish borders. Colleagues from Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico shared successful cases of decentralised water treatment technologies. Their presentations highlighted the key role that research and universities play in starting transformative change at every level, from research and practical application to informing policies and catalysing regulatory shifts. The message from this second session can be succinctly summarised in the quote from Prof. Miguel Peña: “Providing water and sanitation is not solely a technical matter; it is equally a sociological and political concern.”

We also touched on the importance of monitoring.  Advanced and continuous monitoring is essential for controlling the performance of remote technologies. Professor Gauchotte-Lindsay from the University of Glasgow and Dr Rixia Zan from the University of Newcastle explored the use of advanced sensors in monitoring water quality and assessing the performance of wastewater treatment processes.

The day concluded with discussion and the realisation that while challenges might differ from country to country, our shared interests and experiences could form the foundation for a network of researchers, to address this pressing global issue and move towards sustainable water treatment globally.