Groundwater Prize


Dr. Tissa H. Illangasekare (Colorado School of Mines, USA).

Dr. Illangasekare has improved the fundamental understanding of fluid flow and chemical transport in porous media through innovative multi-scale experimentation and modelling, leading to the reliable prediction of the long‐term fate of pollutants in groundwater systems and the behaviour of multiple phase fluids in shallow and deep geologic formations.

His research on the fundamental understanding of the behaviour of multiphase fluids in heterogeneous porous media has addressed issues of the permanent storage of CO2 in deep geologic formations, with a focus on the trapping of CO2 and potential leakage to shallow aquifers. His work addresses the mathematical modelling of multi-phase flow, the effect of geologic heterogeneity in enhancing capillary and dissolution trapping of supercritical CO2, and a benchmark modelling study of CO2 gas evolution in groundwater systems.

Winner Profile

Dr. Tissa H. Illangasekare is AMAX Endowed Distinguished Chair of Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Professor of Civil Engineering, at the Colorado School of Mines, as well as the Founding Director of the Center for the Experimental Study of Subsurface Environmental Processes (CESEP). He is also a Research Affiliate in the Program for Applied Mathematics at the University of Colorado.


• Ph.D. 1978; Colorado State University, Civil Engineering.
• M.Eng. 1974; Asian Institute of Technology - Bangkok, Hydrology and Water Resources Engineering.
• B.Sc. 1971; University of Ceylon, Civil Engineering.

Selected Awards:

2015: AGU’s Bowie Lecture-Langbein Lecture Award for life-time contributions to hydrologic science
2012: Henry Darcy Medal from the European Geosciences Union
2011: Boland Hydrology Award, American Geophysical Union
2010: Honorary Doctorate in Natural Science and Technology, Uppsala University, Sweden
2010: President's Honor Award, Academic Excellence & Extracurricular Activities, Asian Institute of Technology
2010: Colorado School of Mines Senate Excellence in Research Award
2005: Best Research Project Award, SERDP/ESTCP (with B. Siegrist, M. Crimi and J. Marr)
1999: Karen Morehouse Best Paper Award from EPA Conference of Hazardous Waste Research
1993: Karen Morehouse Best Paper Award from EPA Conference of Hazardous Waste Research
1982-3: College of Engineering Award for Outstanding Research Faculty, Colorado State University
1981-2: Outstanding Performer, Research Faculty, Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University

Acceptance Speech

H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, H.R.H. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdualziz, Honorable Minster of Water, ambassadors and delegates from UN Friends of Water member states, and ladies and gentleman.

Coming from a small village in the hills of Sri Lanka, it has been a long journey for me to be standing here in front of this distinguished gathering that includes the other world-renowned scientists who are honored today. I am humbled and honored to accept this prestigious award recognizing my small contributions to the vast field of groundwater. His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz was quite visionary in establishing these awards to recognize the importance of creative science to protect one of our most precious resources. His Excellency, the Secretary General, has pointed out that shortages of water contribute to poverty, social hardship, impede development, and create tensions in conflict-prone regions. As professionals and global citizens, we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to help sustain and protect this critical resource we all share. Prestigious prizes like these will motivate creative people to pursue research to develop innovative solutions to pressing water problems. I thank PSIPW Chairman H.R.H. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz and PSIPW for continuing this all-important effort. I would also like to thank the prize council and those scientists who supported my candidacy.

The challenges of the 21st century are driven by demands on diminishing natural resources that include water, dictated by the unsustainable lifestyles of a rapidly increasing world population. It is expected that every 13-14 years, the world’s population, which stood at of 7.3 billion in 2015, will increase by one billion people. Some alarming statistics show the level of demand for freshwater and the importance of clean water for human survival and health. Humans already use 54% of available freshwater. By 2023, the available water for the global population will decrease by 30%. In 2000, UNESCO estimated that the number of people that died because of low water quality exceeded 2.2 million. One in 10 of the world’s population lacks access to safe water. To meet these challenges of sustaining precious water resources, we must continually strive to explore the science and develop technologies for efficient use and protection of quality. Groundwater is central, and a primary feature of the global water picture, especially in the arid and coastal regions. Groundwater is 30.1% of freshwater on the globe. Surface water amounts to 1.2% and the rest, 68.7%, is stored in glaciers and icecaps. It is not well known that groundwater is the world’s most extracted raw material.

In the latter part of the last century, considerable scientific progress has been made in the core discipline of groundwater by improving the basic understanding of water flow and the fate and transport of contaminants. This new knowledge has led to modeling tools for efficient management, strategies for reducing overdraft, schemes for aquifer replenishment, better water quality monitoring, and schemes to reduce contamination risks. However, the complexities and challenges of the problems of this century require rapid progress in both basic and applied sciences associated with groundwater. Sea-level rise expected to be driven by climate change and overdraft that trigger saltwater intrusion will threaten aquifers in coastal areas where close to a billion people live. New industrial, agrochemical, consumer, pharmaceutical and healthcare products are introducing complex chemicals into the environment, threatening groundwater. Toxins in groundwater increasingly detected at very low concentrations using advanced instrumentation have been determined to produce significant health risks. A rapid transition to alternate energy from shale is requiring a need to understand the risks of surface and groundwater contamination by stimulant and production fluids and methane leakage. Storage of carbon dioxide in deep geologic formations to slow greenhouse gas loading to the atmosphere is requiring a need to assess the risks of gas and brine leakage on water quality in shallow aquifers used for potable water. Bare soil evaporation and evapotranspiration controlled by the coupled soil-water, groundwater, and atmospheric dynamics have to be better represented in global circulation models used in climate change predictions. Groundwater is central to water-energy and water-food security nexuses. The “new science” to address these problems requires groundwater scientists to work at multiple physical interfaces (e.g. aquifer/ocean, land/atmospheric) as well as at the interfaces of other core disciplines such as biological, atmospheric, environmental, climatic, ecological, health, and most importantly social sciences. The most exciting research opportunities and new discoveries are at these interdisciplinary interfaces.

To highlight the need for science at disciplinary interfaces, I would like to briefly present a problem that is affecting farming communities in Sri Lanka, a number of Central American countries (e.g., El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) and India. In 1994, an epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) was discovered among the rice paddy farmers in the North Central Province (NCP) of Sri Lanka, affecting a total population of 460,000 with 69,200 diagnosed cases and a death toll of around 22,000. Funded by the US National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, I visited Sri Lanka in August of this year with a team of multidisciplinary scientific experts from the US, Europe, and South America. It is our assessment, supported by local scientists that multiple factors with a dominant groundwater contamination dimension may be contributing to this disease. These factors include agrochemicals, naturally occurring fluoride and hardness, water distribution based on an ancient system of cascaded reservoirs and canals, genetic susceptibility, and social behavior, among others. The framework needed to address this problem requires research at the interfaces of natural, health, and social sciences. The funding agencies both in the developed and developing world must re-think their research investment strategies to direct resources to promote a culture of collaboration moving away from the comfort zones of individual discipline cores and towards research at disciplinary interfaces.

I have been very fortunate to work with and learn from outstanding students and I share this honor with them. I would like to thank the many who helped and guided my career: the people of Sri Lanka who supported my free education; my teachers at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya for the excellent undergraduate education that prepared me well to venture into many adventures in science and engineering; the Asian Institute of Technology, which has the mission of training engineers to solve applied problems in the region, for giving me the opportunity to work on issues that have a direct impact on people; Prof. Subin Pinkayan, my thesis advisor for introducing me to hydrology; Colorado State University, where I had the privilege to be educated by some of the world’s leading hydrologists and porous media scientists of the time; and my Ph.D. supervisor Prof. Morel-Seytoux who challenged me through the high expectations he placed on his students.

I thank my parents for instilling the value of education early in my life. I am grateful to my family, Mali, Samantha, Tushani, Gideon and Trevor for their love and support and their own commitment to public service. This recognition will motivate me to work harder to leave millions of children around the world that includes my two new grandchildren, Naveen-Lincoln and Sidney-Anula a better, and hopefully a cleaner world than I inherited.

I know this honor comes with the responsibility to use the knowledge and experience I have accumulated during my long academic and research career to continue to serve humanity to help sustain one of our most critical natural resources. I am very much committed to this cause.

It is with excitement, profound appreciation and humility that I accept this award on behalf my students, collaborators, research sponsors, and AMAX endowment at the Colorado School of Mines.

Tissa Illangasekare

Winning Work

1. Smits, K.M., Cihan, A., Sakaki, T. and Illangasekare, T. H., "Evaporation from soils under thermal boundary conditions: Experimental and modeling investigation to compare equilibrium- and nonequilibrium-based approaches" Water Resources Research, 47 (2011).

2. Phenrat, T, Cihan, A., Kim, H.J., Mital, M. Illangasekare, T., and Lowry, G.V., "Transport and Deposition of Polymer-Modified Fe-0 Nanoparticles in 2-D Heterogeneous Porous Media: Effects of Particle Concentration, Fe-0 Content, and Coatings" Environmental Science and Technology, 44:23 (2010).

3. Sakaki, T., O'Carroll, D.M., and Illangasekare, T.H., "Direct Quantification of Dynamic Effects in Capillary Pressure for Drainage-Wetting Cycles" Vadose Zone Journal, 9:2 (2010), pp. 424-437.

4. Trevisan, L., R. Pini, A. Cihan, J. T. Birkholzer, Q. Zhou, and T. H. Illangasekare. "Experimental analysis of spatial correlation effects on capillary trapping of supercritical CO2 at the intermediate laboratory scale in heterogeneous porous media" Water Resources Research (2015).

5. Poate, J., Illangasekare, T.H, H. Kazimi, R. Kee., "Pore Scale Phenomena- Frontiers in Energy and Environment" World Scientific (2015), pp. 482.

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Surface Water Prize


Dr. Gary Parker (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA).

Dr. Parker, one of the world’s premier river geomorphologists, has clarified the vexing problem of meandering rivers, a field that has long been an uncharted territory of geomorphology and sediment transport. His work contributes to our understanding of the shapes rivers take and how they change themselves and their floodplains as they migrate, eroding the sediment of which old land is composed, and creating new land by emplacing fresh sediment.

His research provides models with the ability to capture the coevolution of channel sinuosity and width, so that numerical computations illustrate how meanders generate and how variations in flow bring about the development of meanders. These are effective tools for understanding the processes of meandering, which can be used in a range of engineering computations. He has also provided complex models capable of reproducing the broad range of river width–curvature correlations observed in nature. This research represents a step forward in providing general metrics for predicting width variation patterns in river systems. On a practical level, the work enables knowing what is going to happen in a reconfigured watershed before observing it.

Winner Profile

Dr. Parker is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and W. H. Johnson Professor of Geology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


• Ph.D. 1974; University of Minnesota, Department of Civil Engineering.
• B.Sc. 1971; Johns Hopkins University, Department of Mechanics and Materials Science.

Selected Awards:

2014: G. K. Gilbert Award, American Geophysical Union
2014: Water Resources Research Editor's Choice Award
2012: ASCE Journal of Hydraulic Engineering: Best technical note in 2011
2012: BSG Wiley Blackwell Award, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, best paper in 2011
2012: University of Illinois: Tau Beta Pi Daniel C. Drucker Eminent Faculty Award
2011: Best paper, 5th International Symposium on Submarine Mass Movement & their Consequences, Kyoto
2010: Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System: Lifetime Research Award
2009: Japan Society of Civil Engineering Committee on Hydroscience and Hydraulic Engineering: Best Paper
2007: International Association of Hydraulic Research: M. Selim Yalin Lifetime Achievement Award
2003: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Schoemaker Award (best paper)
2002: US National Academy of Sciences: G. K. Warren Award, Fluviatile Geomorphology
2001: Minnesota Erosion Control Society: Innovation Award
1999: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Schoemaker Award (best paper)
1995: International Association of Hydraulic Research: Arthur Thomas Ippen Award
1994: American Society of Civil Engineers: Hans Albert Einstein Award
1991: American Society of Civil Engineers: Huber Research Prize
1991: University of Minnesota, Institute of Technology: Outstanding Teacher Award
1983: American Society of Civil Engineers: Hilgard Prize (best paper)
1982: American Society of Civil Engineers: Stevens Award (best discussion)


Acceptance Speech

On the occasion of this ceremony, I extend my warm thanks and deep gratitude to His Royal Highness Prince Khaled Bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, United Nations General Secretary His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the outstanding organizing committee of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. The receipt of the Surface Water Prize is a great honor for me, and at the same time a responsibility; such honors must be returned by service to the community.

We have heard much discussion today about international water problems, and the need for cooperation between countries. We live in a world where, for example, one country wishes to build a dam on a river that is a major water resource for a country downstream. How should we handle such problems? I offer the wisdom of a famous story from the Islamic world, about the half-mythical Mullah Nasruddin of Seljuk Turkey.

When the Mullah had reached the age of 40, his friend said to him, “Mullah, you are 40 years old and still single. The Quran teaches that men and women should marry each other. Why do you not seek a wife?”

Mullah Nasruddin sighed, and said, “I do indeed wish to be married, but I seek the perfect woman.”

His friend said, “And have you found her?”

“I was introduced to a woman whose singing and poetry were perfect, but her cooking skills were only so so. Later, I was introduced to a woman whose cooking and singing were prefect, but her poetry was just good. And then I was introduced to a woman whose poetry and cooking were perfect, but her singing was ordinary.”

“So you never met the perfect woman.”

“Indeed, I had the honor to be introduced to such a woman.”

“Then why did you not marry her?”

The Mullah let a tear roll down his cheek. “My friend, she was looking for the perfect man.”

The wisdom of this story tells us that the only solutions we will find for big, cross-country water problems will be imperfect ones. If we first accept this, and move forward with a spirit of cooperation, we are more likely to find a path that leads to benefits for all parties.

The prize I have been awarded is in the area of Surface Water. I am particularly indebted to my Saudi Arabian colleagues in this regard, because Saudi Arabia has very little surface water. Indeed, the beautiful, freely-flowing rivers that I specialize in are not to be found in that country.

Or are they? Wadi Hanifah is a river channel flowing through a region near Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Until recently it was an ephemeral channel, like other rivers in the country. It only carried water during relatively rare times of flood. In researching for this award, however, I was delighted to find that the channel of Wadi Hanifah has been converted to a perennial stream. The channel and its floodplain form a beautiful green belt in the middle of the desert, allowing space for recreation, agricultural land for the cultivations of dates, and habitat for fish and other organisms. I have never seen Wadi Hanifah in person, but photographs show that its striking beauty is made all the more striking by the background of the surrounding desert.

And what has been the key to success here? Again, we learn from Mullah Nasruddin. The water in the river is not pristine, perfect glacial water. It is largely sewage water, but reclaimed using modern technology to the point that it is suitable for a wide variety of purposes. One of these is to bring the delight of green spaces to human beings.

Gary Parker

Winning Work

1. Parker, G., Shimizu, Y., Wilkerson, G. V., Eke, E., Abad, J. D., Lauer, J. W., Paola, C., Dietrich, W. E. and Voller, V. R., "A New Framework for Modeling the Migration Of Meandering Rivers" Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36 (2011), pp. 70–86.

2. Asahi, K., Shimizu, Y. Nelson, J.M. and Parker, G., "Numerical simulation of river meandering with self-evolving banks" Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, 118:4 (2013), pp. 2208–2229.

3. Eke. E.C., Parker, G. and Shimizu, Y., "Numerical Modeling of Erosional and Depositional Bank Processes in Migrating River Bends with Self-formed Width: Morphodynamics of Bar Push and Bank Pull" Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, 119:7 (2014), pp. 1455-1483.

4. Eke, E.C., Czapiga, M., Viparelli, E., Shimizu, Y., Imran, J., Sun, T. and Parker, G., "Coevolution of width and sinuosity in meandering rivers" Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 760 (2014), pp. 127- 174.

5. Czapiga, M.J., Smith, V.B., Nittrouer, J.A., Mohrig, D., Parker, G., "Internal connectivity of meandering rivers: statistical generalization of channel hydraulic geometry" Water Resources Research, 51 (2015), pp. 7485-7500.

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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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