Kusum Athukorala Felicitated for Receiving Women in Water Award

“Water is a thread that runs through every development sector. The land and water of Sri Lanka is our oil and our gold… We can no longer afford to make water a sectoral matter. We cannot make it someone else’s business.” These were some of the comments made by Ms Kusum Athukorala, Chair of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership at a felicitation ceremony conducted to honour her achievement on receiving the bi-annual Women in Water Award presented by the International Water Association.

The ceremony was chaired by the Honourable Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, and was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on 19 October 2012. The distinguished speakers included Mr Jeremy Bird, Director General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Chairman of Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), Prof. J. B. Dissanayake, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo and other well known figures involved in the water sector.

This is the third time that this award is being presented and the first time that an Asian has been the recipient. Ms Athukorala is the Chair of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership and NetWwater and has had a long career in water management. She is the co-founder of two international organizations - SaciWATERs based in Andhra Pradesh, India, and Women for Water Partnership based in the Hague, the Netherlands. In 1996 she was nominated to the steering committee of the Global Water Partnership and also  presented the first paper on ‘Gender and Water’ at the Stockholm Water Symposium.

Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena in his address appreciated the work carried out by Ms Athukorala and pointed out that her award was an honour for Sri Lanka. He described Ms Athukorala’s approach to her work as being “….pragmatic, practical and adventurous” and valued her ability to take on new challenges. He highlighted her work in travelling to remote areas and working with women who undergo many hardships in obtaining water. He also appreciated the assistance she provided to the ministry in formulating a National Community Water Trust, and hoped that her expertise would be available to policy makers in the future as well.

Mr Jeremy Bird spoke briefly about the work carried out by IWMI and expressed his pleasure at having the chance to work in Sri Lanka again. He recalled how he has known Ms Athukorala since the World Water Forum in Hague in 2000 and appreciated her ability to work in a variety of diverse settings and the fact that she was unafraid to tackle controversial and sensitive issues. Professor J. B. Dissanayake, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo focused on a different angle, by describing the role water plays in Sri Lankan cultural practices, and his experience in compiling the book “Sri Lankan Water Heritage”.

Several of Ms Athukorala’s colleagues also spoke at the occasion as well. Mr S. B. Niyangoda, former Chair of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership pointed out the need for an integrated approach to water management and emphasized Ms Athukorala’s work in promoting IWRM at both grassroots and policy making levels. Ms Dilrukshi Handunneti, Deputy Editor of Ceylon Today, referred to Ms Athukorala’s work as ‘inspirational’ and spoke about her contributions to improving school sanitation, advocating for better toilet facilities and adequate water supplies for schools. “She has taken upon herself the task of educating the next generation” commented Ms Handunneti. Other speakers included Ms Kamini Vitarana, Chair of Ruk Rekaganno, Ms Ruana Rajapaksa, Attorney at Law and Prof Ranjith Bandara, Chairman of SLFI. The event concluded with a vote of thanks delivered by Mrs Swarna Sumanasekera of NetWwater.