UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is pioneering an ambitious new approach to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges through a £200M investment across 12 global research Hubs.

Over the next five years, the 12 interdisciplinary Hubs will work across 85 countries with governments, international agencies, partners and NGOs on the ground in developing countries and around the globe, to develop creative and sustainable solutions which help make the world, and the UK, safer, healthier and more prosperous. The Hubs are dedicated to helping countries meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Two of these 12 hubs will be led by experts at Newcastle University.

Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub

The Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub will bring together 94 organisations from 25 countries and draw on the expertise of scientists, engineers, geographers, architects and social scientists.

80% of the world’s population live in areas threatened by water security yet efforts to resolve this are repeatedly thwarted by pressures such as pollution, extreme weather, urbanisation, over-abstraction of groundwater and land degradation.

The Water Security Hub takes a broad view of water systems to explore the challenges and barriers to water security from the impact of different social, cultural and environmental values of water through to the consequences of fragmented water governance. It will tackle these barriers by providing a forum, open to all stakeholders, to jointly question, discuss, and construct new ideas to resolve water security issues.

Starting in March, the Newcastle University-led GCRF Water Security Hub will run for five years and bring together leading research partners from Colombia (Universidad del Valle and Universidad del Cauca), Ethiopia (University of Addis Ababa), India (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and School of Planning and Architecture Delhi), Malaysia (University Teknologi Malaysia), the UK (University of Leeds and University of Oxford), and the International Water Management Institute.

Professor Richard Dawson, from the School of Engineering at Newcastle University and academic lead for the new Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub, says: “The enormity of the problem means we can only solve it if we work together, by bringing researchers together with local communities, local and national governments, water providers, business and industry and global organisations.

“I am delighted by the quality of our partnership which has a truly global presence. The key will be to learn from each other, to share examples of good practice and look at how these can be transferred and translated to ensure water security around the world. 2019 marks 70 years of water research at Newcastle University, and this new Hub will further build on our expertise, marking a new era in our research programme, as we work with partners around the world to develop and apply interdisciplinary systems approaches to water security, explicitly acknowledging the interplay between the physical world and the people that live in it.”

“Ensuring water security at scale is of primary importance for Ethiopia’s development agenda,” adds Dr Tena Agumassie, from the Water and Land Research Centre, University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

“This hub will generate and collate vital scientific evidence and engage with local communities, catchment managers and key government ministers to guide the national development policy and practice.”

Living Deltas Hub

The Living Deltas Hub focuses on safeguarding river deltas and their communities, and also addresses global challenges that communities face on water.

River deltas comprise just one per cent of global landscapes yet support over half a billion people. Deltas are vital social-ecological systems and global food-baskets, but the landscapes and the livelihoods of those who rely on them are under threat from human exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change.

“The urgent need for the River Deltas Hub is clear,” says Dr Andy Large, Reader in River Science at Newcastle University and academic lead for the new Living Deltas Hub, “as human impacts increase, the necessity of sustainable development strategies underpinned by locally-rooted knowledge becomes ever greater.”

Even median levels of sea level rise predicted by the IPCC could displace between three and 13 million people in Bangladesh by 2100. According to Professor Mashfiqus Salehin of BUET in Dhaka, “inundation and saline intrusion would have serious consequences for the most vulnerable people in the region.”

“Reduced coastal resilience because of mangrove loss in the Red River delta has had dramatic cultural effects on the lives of local communities, especially women and girls,” says Dr Hue Le of Vietnam National University, Hanoi.

According to Dr Kien van Nguyen of An Giang University, Vietnam, “in the past, the Mekong delta was considered a beautiful place to live, but now all that has changed as a result of loss of heritage, environmental degradation and the growing threat of climate change.”

The GCRF Living Deltas Hub will work with delta-dwellers and policymakers to develop solutions that can help better realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in delta-specific contexts.

Announcing the 12 UKRI GCRF Hubs alongside 16 other international research partnerships, Science and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, said:

“The UK has a reputation for globally influential research and innovation, and is at the centre of a web of global collaboration – showing that science has no borders.

“We have a strong history of partnering with other countries – over 50% of UK authored research involves collaborations with international partners.

“The projects being announced today reinforce our commitment to enhance the UK’s excellence in innovation at home and around the world, driving high-skilled jobs, economic growth and productivity as part of the modern Industrial Strategy.”

Further information about projects in sustainable water at Newcastle University is available on the Global Challenges Academy’s website:

A podcast about the Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub is also available:

Global water challenges
key facts:

  • 80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security (Nature)
  • 2.1 billion people lack access to safe, readily available water at home (WHO/UN)
  • 61% of the world does not have access to safely managed sanitation (WHO)
  • Without concrete action on climate and development 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America could be displaced by climate change (World Bank)