AQWA Academy – Sustainable capacity development in the water sector

Mar 19, 2013

Water obtains its fundamental importance from its life giving characteristic. Through its close relationship with health, food security, energy, environment and economy, water is the most important basic resource. Access to water and basic sanitation are, in accordance with the 2010 UN General Assembly resolution, an essential human right. However, this fundamental right is not accessible to a large portion of the world’s population. Sustainable solutions for efficient and resource saving management are therefore needed. A key factor for this is the qualification of skilled professionals. AQWA Academy offers a training program for water sector professionals, which aims to make a contribution to the improvement of the water situation in the most arid region of the world.

The countries of North Africa and the Middle East (or MENA) region are considered to be those with the most serious water scarcity in the world. Exacerbating the problem is an inadequately secured water supply and crumbling or non-existent waste disposal systems, water pollution, and land use conflicts. The availability of groundwater and surface water is for many of the countries in the region already drastically bellow the critical water security limit of 1,000 m3/capita. In over the past two decades, the MENA region has experienced a population increase of nearly 43 %. The total estimated population of more than 359 million in 2010 is expected to reach 461 million by 2025 (ESCWA: 2009), making the need for action urgent. The already climaticly arid region is suffering the consequences of climate change, especially the increase in extreme phenomena such as extended droughts and desertification. Intensified agricultural use and pollution of fresh water by pesticides, augment the water stress even further. The increasing degradation of the soil threatens food security and has far-reaching ecological consequences. The constant need for rehabilitation and maintenance of the already insufficent water supply network is causing excessive economic costs (up to 3.5 %of the gross domestic product, UNESCO 2013).

The AQWA Academy is in part based on a multimedia oriented online platform that brings the future experts closer to complex issues in an understandable way

Furthermore, the MENA region is also one of the key regions influencing international security. The extreme scarcity of water is therefore a crucial factor in the threat to social and political stability. The availability of water can not be increased much further, but rather threatens to fall due to the effects of climate change. An extensive crisis is in this case almost inevitable. The particular challenges for the water sector in the MENA region lay in the rapid population growth and increasing urbanization, which result in a strongly growing demand for water. Investment in infrastructure, water supply, and sanitation technologies are essential, but it is also a question of improving the institutional framework. Integrated solutions that extend beyond purely technological approaches are in demand.

For some years now, the concept of IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management) exists, whose goal is to merge sustainable use of water technologies and the adaptation to different climatic, ecological, economic and social conditions. Although widely accepted, the implementation of this approach remains unsatisfactory to this day, hence new or additional strategies are needed.

It must be acknowledged that change processes are initiated by individuals and that these processes are only sustainable and effective if the changes occur within the appropriate framework. A cornerstone of sustainable water management (especially in the context of extreme water shortage) is the further development of professionals. However, this should not only include technological and commercial know-how required for the effective operation of distribution networks and suitable methods for water and wastewater treatment, but also an awareness of quality standards and the value of maintenance for the investment-intensive systems to ensure their longevity, low-loss operation and ultimately a high water quality. These core competencies are based on appropriate knowledge, skills and the aptitude for acting consciously.

Transfer of combined know-how

Practical: The FiW’s knowledgeable experts train its guests directly on site

Here the AQWA Academy comes into play: As a German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) sponsored initiative, the Academy has the objective of developing sustainable training programs for the water sector in the MENA countries. According to the partnership concept, private companies act in cooperation with higher education institutions in order to develop practical, high quality, certified training programs. The AQWA Academy brings together the competencies of multiple partners: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stein & Partner GmbH (Bochum, Germany) uses an individually tailored online portal to not only provide the technical basis for the internet-based teaching of the technical content, but also to provide the required expertise in relation to pipeline construction and maintenance as well as the background knowledge regarding network management.

The Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stein & Partner GmbH has already successfully taught its blended learning content in the Middle East

Complementing this expertise is the know-how of the Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen (FiW), which incorporates its extensive experience in the sector of water supply, water purification technology, and the associated quality management with the RWTH International Academy developed educational framework, to enable the rather complex issues to be taught and communicated successfully.

The core of the AQWA Academy is found in the comprehensive curriculum outlined in the AQWA Academy module handbook. This is a detailed teaching concept that covers the entire urban water management cycle:

  1. water resource management
  2. water catchment / drinking water
  3. wastewater collection
  4. wastewater treatment
  5. water management

For each of the five topics the relevant expertise is given on the design, construction, operation and maintenance, as well as management. Together they provide an essential knowledge base for an integrated water management in the MENA region. The program is intended to be a modular training service for both academic (students, engineers and middle managers) and non-academic professionals (“on site operators”).

Bring the content to the students!

To have high quality technical content is one thing, but it must also be well communicated and understood. Taking into account the technical requirements in the MENA region, along with each country established education and training system, the AQWA Academy is built on a basic didactic concept that ties in with the local requirements: Thanks to its modular structure, the teaching program is sufficiently flexible to be individually adapted to the prevailing situation in each country. Therefore, a so called blended learning scenario has been developed so that the different types of learners and learning styles can be handled appropriately, allowing for the targeted transfer of theoretical knowledge into practical action. Blended learning is based on a combination of independent e-learning sessions and in class training. This specific combination of learning methods has the advantage of producing a complimentary learning effect, which enables holistic learning and takes into account individual needs.

Learning materials are presented in a clear conducive learning structure with defined learning objectives. This applies to both: the e-learning courses and the in-class sessions. The step by step learning content, geared to different levels of difficulty, in combination with application oriented exercises and a high practical relevance forms the basis for creating high learning motivation - a key success factor. The individually preferred learning styles are taken into account through the specific and varied use of different media, which adds to the proven learning success. Here the AQWA Academy clearly benefits from the experience of the partners involved: The Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stein & Partner GmbH has many years of experience in creating training and interactive media in the field of engineering. The FiW is an expert on the link between theoretical and practical training, and the RWTH International Academy supplements this combination through their specialised knowledge of the structure and organization of postgraduate educational formats.

Dialog is the key

Social relationships have a very high value in Arab cultures: personal contact, direct exchange and relationships are important, especially for the development of long-term bonds. An important aspect for the design of the AQWA Academy learning program is therefore the direct dialogue with the Arab partners in every phase of the program. In this context, AQWA Academy seeks to develop a broad network of educational institutions, water sector institutions, associations and representatives from both business and politics within the Arab world and Germany.

The RWTH International Academy has many years of experience in the in depth exchange of expert knowledge

The training and qualification of professionals in the MENA water management sector is a crucial cornerstone for the sustainable use of resources, and is an essential element in the improvement of ecological and socio-economic conditions in the region. Sustainable capacity development is an essential driver of technology transfer, because: Only well trained technicians and engineers can efficiently implement the current products for their intended purpose. This is one of the guiding principles of the German Water Partnership (2013): “No investment without qualification.”

The development and evaluation of the AQWA Academy program is in full swing. Start of the program is scheduled for the second half of 2013. For more information, please visit:


M. Behr, M.A.
B. Blaskan, C.E.T.

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