Coordinator and Director of the UN World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP, UNESCO programme), Stefan Uhlenbrook still wants to change the world

Why hydrology? In the late 1980s, I was so naive and wanted to save the world. I thought that by studying water and being able to advise people on how to better manage the resource I would be contributing to achieving peace and sustainable development. I’m still naive, so do not believe me. Changing the world is probably a very big thing, I do not know if I can do it. On the other hand, the change is within ourselves. How each of us contributes to make the world a better place can make a difference. If we all do something, we can make a difference. I do this professionally, in my work, and try to do in my private life as much as possible. However, if we all do something, I feel we will go beyond what we are used to doing, and we will move to a more sustainable place. After all, people make a difference. If you look back, and to our planet, which are billions of years old, you will remember that people have not always existed. We think we are the center of the universe, but we are not. We have been here for a while, maybe we will be for several more years, we do not know, but this possible future surrounds us. It’s not about people, but about being a sustainable planet, about making sure it’s going to be passed on as an inheritance to a next generation in a sustainable way.

At 48, married to Sikle and the father of three children, Sina Yael, Linnéa Marie and Luca Maximilian Pluk, Stefan Uhlembrook has a resume that leaves no doubt about his passion for the environment, especially for water. “Water is absolutely essential, it is essential to the ecosystem, it is the basis of life, it is the basis of human intelligence, it is the basis for humanity to live on this planet, not only for humans, but for all living things. It is a topic that should be discussed more often because water is connected with society, with the economy – it is very important for economic development – and with the environment. It is a subject full of connections.”

Born in Neubeckum, Germany, he recently moved from Delft, in the Netherlands — where he lived for ten years as a teacher – to Rome, Italy. There, he coordinates and directs the United Nations Water Assessment Program (WWAP) within the UNESCO office located in Perugia. The government of Italy is the sponsor of the program and, despite the change after being established for years in the Netherlands, Stefan is satisfied. “Rome is a fantastic place; it is a great city, incredible. The culture, the beauty, the food and, finally, the quality of life, which is really good.”

In addition to work, Stefan likes playing sports, feeling alive, and playing soccer with his son Luca, especially because he played football when he was young and wanted to be a professional as his son wants to be at the age of 10. “He wants to be a player in Germany. You know, it’s a good time to be a German soccer player. But his father is not super talented, so let’s see. His mother is very good at sports, she used to dance ballet when she was young, so let’s see if he can make it”, Stefan jokes.

In Brazil for the launch the UN report on nature-based solutions for the water issue, Stefan wants to translate science. “There are a lot of good scientists around the world, including in Brazil, but sometimes, we, scientists are not very good at communicating effectively. Behind the complicated equations and images, there is a lot to say, but those who do politics they need to know just what they need to know, what the challenges are, what the limits of such approach are, and how to move forward. So, I try to translate complicated science into a language that is understandable to everyone”, he explains.

For Stefan, scientific knowledge needs to be translated into a language that everyone can understand it, but especially those who make public policies, politicians, and other decision makers, because they make the difference in a broader scope. “I try to inform them, communicate with them, let them know the latest data and the latest knowledge we produce so they can transfer it to sustainable policies”. After all, Stefan believes that each one of us, including those in public office and ahead of big business, can change the world.

Content published in March 22, 2018

Meet more people