Don’t run after foreign experts, says Prof. Asit Biswas

ASIAN WATER | July-August, 2006

Prof Asit Biswas will be awarded the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize for his outstanding and multifaceted contributions to global water resource issues. Known as one who constantly challenges the “status quo“ and who helped foster a critical rethink among UN agencies, governments, professional associations and others about how to improve delivery of water, sanitation and management of water resources, he is also a delight to interview. Here, he offers his forthright views to the editor of Asian Water.

The history of water development is littered with examples of foreign consultants who come to developing countries with limited knowledge of their climatic conditions, social and cultural habits, institutional and management capacities, and environmental situations.

They come when the weather is most pleasant. For example, all the 5-star hotels in Islamabad or Dhaka are full each year with foreign consultants between October and February, when the climate is most agreeable. One will be hard-pressed to see a foreign mission during the monsoon season, or the hot periods of May and June, in the Indian sub-continent. They stay in the country for a few weeks (often their first visit to the country) in fancy hotels and move around in air-conditioned cars with several local officers to look after their every whim. After this artificial existence, they propose solutions for the Western conditions with which they are familiar with and which may work in North America or Western Europe. These are mostly wrong solutions, because the prevailing conditions in the United States or the European countries are very different from Asia. Not surprisingly, many of these solutions proposed by Western consultants, with limited knowledge of the local conditions do not work in developing countries.

Full interview online