A good friend of mine tells a great story about how as a young engineer, she was welcomed on the streets as a heroine, bringing water supply and drains to a village.
You may be surprised to learn that this happened in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. Today, ensuring the UK population has access to clean water and sanitation is not a big issue. But it was not so very long ago that the UK was still tackling this challenge.
With the Environment Agency’s recent warning of water shortages within 25 years due to climate change and population growth, if we do not get our act together, England may be facing water supply challenges again before too long.
Globally, access to clean water and sanitation remains a major issue. Safe, reliable and affordable water supply and sanitation are essential for civilised life. As well as being vital for individual health and wellbeing, they provide an essential foundation for social and economic development.
People who work in this sector are united in a sense of social purpose and routinely talk about how rewarding they find their work, and the difference it makes to people’s lives.
This is why, following last year’s Global Engineering Congress, the ICE is focused on supporting engineering professionals to play their part in meeting the United Nations sustainable development goals for water and sanitation.
Standing between nature and human civilisation, the civil engineer plays a critical and fulfilling role. We are the mediators between two worlds: serving society by harnessing water as a resource and protecting civilisation from its destructive power but at the same time, protecting the environment from the often highly negative impacts of human activity.
This story is at the heart of ICE’s new public exhibition on water, part of the wider water knowledge programme this year.
Following the success of the previous Invisible Superheroes exhibition, a new set of real-life engineers has been transformed into superhero characters.
Some represent the unseen heroes who are saving and enabling life through clean water and sanitation. But other engineering disciplines which harness or defend against water are also represented, from flood and coastal management through to hydropower.
It is likely the public will be surprised at the sheer variety of engineering roles on show at the exhibition. We believe that it will continue to deliver on the great work of ICE 200 and help the public to better understand and appreciate how much civil engineering supports their lives.
We also hope it will inspire a new generation of engineers to join our profession. To all the children who have ever dreamed of being a superhero (and to adults who still hold that dream), civil engineering is a good place to start.
- Ed McCann is ICE vice president Learning Society