Creativity Prize


Dr. Peter J. Webster (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA).

Dr. Webster has applied his extensive work on ocean-atmosphere interactions and their effects on monsoon strength to provide one-to-two-week lead time forecasts of monsoonal floods that often provoke catastrophic inundations in highly populated coastal regions.

He took the global model of the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF) for predicting the monsoon’s active and break cycles and used it to developed a method for forecasting upcoming dry and wet spells based on the statistical analysis of the ECMWF output. He combined the ECMWF weather forecasts with a river runoff model to forecast river flow as well as the inundation following the flood “front”. In this way, he was able to predict, with remarkable accuracy, the floods that have devastated Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and India in the past several years.

He then went on to lead the development of the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh Project (CFAB), where he developed and implemented a probabilistic rainfall and river discharge forecast system for the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. This forecast system was successfully put to test in the 2007 and 2008 floods.

In 2012, Webster helped the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) to obtain a regional stream of the daily ECMWF forecast output. With this data, RIMES was able to take over the CFAB forecasts for Bangladesh, providing them daily to the country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre. He has also applied these models to the Indus River.

Winner Profile

Dr. Peter J. Webster is Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also a consultant with the World Bank and Chief Scientist of the Climate Forecast Applications Network.


• Ph.D. 1972; Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
• B.Sc. 1964; Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.

Selected Awards:

2015: International Award: American Geophysical Union
2015: 116th Sir Edmund Halley Lecturer June, Oxford University UK
2012: Mason Gold Medal: Royal Meteorological Society
2010: No 47: Discover Magazine Top 100 Science Stories 2009
2007: Outstanding Faculty Research Author Award: Georgia Tech
2006: Best Faculty Paper Award: Georgia Institute of Technology
2006: No 1: Discover Magazine Top 100 Science Stories 2005
2004: Carl Gustav Rossby Research Gold Medal: American Meteorological Society
2003: Adrian Gill Medal: Royal Meteorological Society
1999: Special Creativity Award: National Science Foundation
1995: Special Achievement Award: American Meteorological Society
1990: Jule G. Charney Award: American Meteorological Society
1990: Special Creativity Award: National Science Foundation
1990: Senior Humboldt Research Award: Humboldt Foundation
1989: The Wilson Research Award: Pennsylvania State University


Acceptance Speech

Dear Distinguished Guests and Colleagues,

It is a great honor to receive the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Creativity Prize for Water jointly with Drs. Rita Colwell and Shafiqul Islam whose important work I have followed and admired for many years. The award came as a great surprise and I would like to thank Georgia Institute of Technology for my nomination and the International Panel for choosing me.

I think that it important to acknowledge the man for whom the prize is named. Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz was a man of great foresight. He is remembered for his philanthropy and for his service to his people. He is equally remembered both nationally and internationally his environmentalism that has inspired significant progress in hydrological and climate science and its application to the betterment of mankind.

Many of the largest rivers on the planet emanate from the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas fed by glacial and snow melting and monsoon rainfall. Nearly 25% of the global population reside in the vast agrarian societies in the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus river basins, each of which is subject to periods of widespread and long-lived flooding. Flooding remains the greatest cause of death and destruction in the developing world, leading to catastrophic loss of life and property. While almost every government in Asia has made substantial progress over the past two decades in saving the lives of victims of slow-onset flood disasters, such events remain relentlessly impoverishing. For example, in India alone, an average 6 million ha of land is inundated each year, affecting 35–40 million people. Because flooding occurs in the fertile flood plains of major rivers, the loss in agricultural inputs (seed, fertilizer, and pesticides) alone costs in excess of 1 billion U.S. dollars in an average flood or drought event. Smallholders nearly always purchase these agricultural inputs on credit against repayment after the expected harvest. The loss of crops and the purchased agricultural inputs typically place a farming family in debt for several years, by which time the cycle is generally repeated, condemning successive generations to the treadmill of poverty.

Following the devastating floods in Bangladesh in 1998, we were asked if there was a way of forecasting floods that would allow societies to prepare and mitigate potential damage. Given my background a fluid dynamicist, my team and I developed a dynamical model of the flow in Ganges and Brahmaputra to provide forecasts 10-15 days in advance. To be useful, the lead-time of the forecast had to be at least 7 days which would allow the slowest group of a society (e.g., a farmer and his cattle) time to find safe refuge. The model methodology has proven very useful in Bangladesh, where it is used operationally by the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES). Villages that used the forecast made savings that were close to what they made per year.

The backbone of the hydrological model is the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts that generates terabytes of data per day. These data are not accessible (or digestible) to many of the vulnerable societies around the world. But if these data could be separated into digestible streams then a relatively small nation could use our hydrological models themselves. Our model successfully forecast (in hindcast mode) the Pakistan floods of 2010, 2011 and 2012. If Pakistan had ECMWF data available, they could have forecast these devastating floods themselves using our methodology as any small nation could do. This is a relatively cheap endeavor and would offer the building of resilience and the attainment sustainability for the poor of the world and allow them to anticipate risk and take action and chart their own destiny.

Finally, I would like to thank members of my research group, especially Drs. Jun Jian, Thomas Hopson and Carlos Hoyos, who have made these endeavors possible. I especially appreciate the continual support of Tom Brennan (USAID), Sri A. Subbiah (Director of RIMES) and Prof. Judith A. Curry (Georgia Tech).

Thank you once again.

Peter J. Webster

Winning Work

1. Peter J, Webster, V. E. Toma, and H.‐M. Kim. "Were the 2010 Pakistan floods predictable?" Geophysical Research Letters, 38 (2011).

2: Peter J. Webster and Jun Jian. "Environmental prediction, risk assessment and extreme event: adaptation strategies for the developing world" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A., 369 (2011), pp. 1-30.

3. Kristofer Y. Shrestha, Peter J. Webster, and Violeta E. Toma, "An Atmospheric–Hydrologic Forecasting Scheme for the Indus River Basin" Journal of Hydrometeorology, 15:2 (2014), pp. 861-890.

4. Ernesto Sanchez-Triana, Santiago Enriquez, Bjorn Larsen, Peter Webster, and Javaid Afzal, "Sustainability and Poverty Alleviation Confronting Environmental Threats in Sindh, Pakistan" Directions in Development, Environment and Sustainable Development Report, World Bank (2015).

5. Peter J. Webster. "Improve weather forecasts for the developing world" Nature, 493, (2013), pp. 17-19.

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Creativity Prize


psipw5thwinnersteam 4web 4Dr. Rita Colwell (University of Maryland at College Park) and Dr. Shafiqul Islam (Tufts University, USA).

Dr. Colwell and Dr. Islam have developed and tested a model that uses chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks up to six months in advance.

Dr. Rita Colwell, an internationally acclaimed oceanographer and microbiologist, has spent the bulk of her career studying the V. cholerae bacterium that causes cholera. She and her colleagues have found V. cholerae in oceans around the world, in isolated lakes and rivers untouched by faecal contamination, and even in volcanic springs in Iceland. Colwell and her team were the first to use remote satellite data to develop a predictive model for cholera outbreaks in East Asia, and she is the first scientist to link global warming with a potential rise in cases of infectious disease.

Dr. Shafiqul Islam has applied Colwell’s findings to relate chlorophyll levels and cholera outbreaks in the Bay of Bengal. Using satellite data from NASA, he developed a satellite-based model to accurately predict potential cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. The model has been tested with chlorophyll information from satellites over the Bay of Bengal region to predict cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh. The team is currently working on testing the model with ground-based observations.

Winner Profiles

Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Colwell is Distinguished Professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, as well as at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also the President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. She has also been President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Microbiology.


• Ph.D. University of Washington, Oceanography.
• M.S.; Purdue University, Genetics.
• B.S.; Purdue University, Bacteriology.

Selected Awards:

2010: Stockholm Water Prize
2006: National Medal of Science (given by President George W. Bush)
Maryland’s Top 100 Women Hall of Fame
AIBS Outstanding Service Award
Central Intelligence Agency Civilian Recognition Award
National Women’s Hall of Fame
“The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” awarded by the Emperor of Japan
AAUW Award (American Association of University Women)
Medal of Distinction from Columbia University
Gold Medal of Charles University, Prague
UCLA Medal from the University of California, Los Angeles
Alumna Summa Laude Dignata from the University of Washington, Seattle
Honorary Doctor of Science (58 universities and colleges)


Dr. Shafiqul Islam

Dr. Islam is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and First Bernard M. Gordon Senior Faculty Fellow in Engineering at Tufts University. He also holds a joint appointment as Professor of Water Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.


• Ph.D. 1991; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hydrometeorology and Hydro-climatology.
• M.S. 1987; University of Maine, Environmental Engineering.
• B.Sc. 1983; Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Civil Engineering.

Selected Awards:

2004: Bernard M. Gordon Senior Faculty Fellow in Engineering, Tufts University
2004: Distinguished Senior Faculty Research Award, Engineering, University of Cincinnati
2001: Senior Fulbright Scholar
1999: Professor of the Quarter, College of Engineering, University of Cincinnati

Acceptance Speech

Your Royal Highness, Honourable Secretary-General, Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen…

It is really a terrific honour to receive this award, essentially recognition of forty years work to provide safe water to the most impoverished peoples, and to bring a focus to the most bare necessity of human life, which is expressed so well by Your Royal Highness, that is: “safe water, clean water for health and vitality”.

Safe water and sanitation prevent at least twenty-five diseases transmitted by unclean, impure water. Protecting against these diseases is the primary objective of our work. The work began when I was a student and discovered the linkage of the causative agent of cholera, a devastating diarrheal disease, the second most potent killer of children under the age of five. We found the bacteria to be associated with plankton, namely zooplankton, these microscopic creatures abundant in water systems: lakes, rivers, coastal waters, and the oceans.

This relationship of the cholera bacteria with plankton proved insightful, and my early studies led to recognising a simple filter: sari cloth, a cloth material used for women’s dress in many Asian countries, folded three or four times to form an effective filter. In a three-year study, it was shown to reduce cholera by fifty percent, by removing the plankton carrying the bacteria.

But then we realised we could predict cholera by using remote sensing, using satellites already encircling the Earth. The first studies were done in the 1980s, simple but effective twenty-five years ago.

Today, my fellow team-mate will describe our most recent work, and I am currently pursuing a very elegant technique of using DNA extracted from water samples to show the presence of all bacterial and viral plankton parasites in water, and be able to show that when they are removed, the water can be use safely.

So this is the latest battle for human health: removing disease agents from drinking water. I must say that this Prize is most significant because it recognises the most critical, fundamental feature of life on Earth.

Thank you

Rita Colwell


His Excellency Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, His Royal Highness Prince Khaled, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Good Afternoon.

When I learned that our work would be receiving the creativity award, some friends and colleagues asked: “Saudi Arabia is a desert; why are they awarding a water prize?” Upon reflection, I think this is precisely the reason this prize is so important. It acknowledges the vital nature of both water and the development and sharing of global water knowledge.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum identified water crisis as the number one global risk. Yet, in the recently signed COP21 agreement, water did not appear once.

There is a disconnect: Water is everywhere; yet, it is nowhere! 85% of fresh water is used for agriculture; yet, water does not show up in any serious trade negotiation. One child dies every 8 seconds due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Yet, we have not addressed this basic human need.

To address this disconnect between our knowledge of science and our social action, we need to develop global awareness of water for actionable outcome. The days of ‘science for science sake’ have passed; we now need science for societal impact. This is where this prize and the role of UN are vitally important.

Cholera is an old disease and water conflict is not a new problem. Over the last thirty years, my research group has looked at these apparently disconnected water problems to provide synthesis of theory and practice with measurable outcomes.

For this particular problem, hydrology meets microbiology and combines with epidemiology and engineering to develop a satellite-based cholera prediction model. It is a great honor and privilege to work and share this prize with Dr. Colwell who was the first to discover that cholera has an environmental host and can’t be eradicated like small pox.

Vibrio cholera is a bacterium that can live and thrive in two distinctively different environments: micro-environment of human body and macro-environment of aquatic and brackish habitats. The deep disciplinary focus on examining micro- or macro-environmental factors has produced a vast, yet somewhat disconnected, knowledge base of cholera. Despite steady accumulation of detailed knowledge of cholera in these two environments, we still cannot adequately predict when and where the next cholera epidemic will strike.

Consequently, cholera cannot be defeated by medicine alone.

We need a new intervention approach – a cholera warning system - to minimize the impact of this devastating disease by prior planning and implementing effective solutions. Our approach starts with a simple premise: “data-rich” modeling driven by “adaptive-theory”. Such an approach is vital to develop a cholera warning system and implement a “predict and prevent” strategy that includes timely mobilization of treatment resources and effective vaccines for reducing the disease burden.

Our satellite based cholera prediction model has the functionality to be useful for many regions of the world where minimal or no resources are available for ground based measurements. My hope is that our findings will enable the medical and health community to anticipate and prevent cholera outbreaks. I hope it will draw global attention for action and will operationalize this predictive model to save lives.

I must emphasize the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of this work. I am pleased to share this honor with my mentors, students and colleagues who entertain, support, and challenge many of my outrageous questions related to science and society. I want to thank my family: my departed father, for encouraging me to pursue engineering and my wife for always supporting my “strange engineer’s pursuit of thinking and doing science, policy, and diplomacy”. And to my two wonderful daughters and son-in-law for their wise and diligent criticism of my work during our never-ending dinner table conversations.

Thank you PSIPW council for the recognition of our work. I am pleased, honored, and humbled by this award.

Shafiqul Islam

Winning Work

1. Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ali Shafqat Akanda, Shafiqul Islam. "A framework for predicting endemic cholera using satellite derived environmental determinants" Environmental Modeling and Software, 47 (2013) pp. 148-158.

2. Ali Shafqat Akanda, Antarpreet S. Jutla, Munirul Alam, Guillaume Constantin de Magny, A. Kasem Siddique, R. Bradley Sack, Anwar Huq, Rita R. Colwell, Shafiqul Islam. "Hydroclimatic Influences on Seasonal and Spatial Cholera Transmission Cycles: Implications for Public Health Intervention in the Bengal Delta" Water Resources Research, 47 (2011).

3. Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Akanda, Jeffrey Griffiths, Rita Colwell, Shafiqul Islam. "Warming oceans, phytoplankton, and river discharge: Implications for cholera outbreaks" American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 85:2 (2011), pp. 303-308.

4. Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Akanda, Anwar Huq, Abu Syed Faruque, Rita Colwell, Shafiqul Islam, "A water marker monitored by satellites to predict seasonal endemic cholera framework for predicting endemic cholera" Remote Sensing Letters, vol. 4, no. 8 (2013), pp. 822–831.

5. Anwar Huq, Mohammed Yunus, Syed Salahuddin Sohel, Abbas Bhuiya, Michael Emch, Stephen P. Luby, Estelle Russek-Cohen, G. Balakrish Nair, R. Bradley Sack, Rita R. Colwell. "Simple Sari Cloth Filtration of Water Is Sustainable and Continues To Protect Villagers from Cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh" MBIO, volume 1, number 1 (April 2010).

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