Framing the Future of Water

April 13, 2016
A woman collecting water - the Future of Water - the Frontlinec Club

The future of water is uncertain. More than 650 million of the world’s poorest people are living without access to an ‘improved’ source of drinking water, according to a WaterAid briefing

In fact, these people often pay more than fellow citizens who are lucky or wealthy enough to have an official water point. Yet, when water makes the headlines, stories tend not focus on the lack of access to affordable, convenient, improved water sources.

On Monday 11 April, a panel of  journalists and experts from a range of disciplines gathered to discuss how people working within the media can tell stories to effectively communicate the big issue of the global water shortage.

Before Mark Galloway, Director of the International Broadcasting Trust, led and moderated an interactive discussion on the global water shortage, the Frontline Club premiered four short documentaries which were produced as part of WaterAid and Public Media Alliance’s global sH2Orts film competition.

Introducing the films to the audience, Catherine Feltham, director and film producer from WaterAid, said, “using different styles, these winning films motivate different audiences to care, listen and think about the many different issues and problems for people within big topics like the global water crisis.”

Feltham invited the audience to choose and tweet their favourite films and provide brief reasons why:

sH2Orts four winning films:

  1. Giselle Santos, Automatic Tubig Machine (ATM)
  2. Vardan Hovhannisyan, Blanketed Snows
  3. Sven Harding, Place of Sweet Waters
  4. Ibrahim S Kamara, The Hoist

An audience member said that he valued how The Hoist addressed colonial history – and widespread ignorance of its damaging impact that continues to the present day.

Contrastingly, an independent film producer praised ATM for its simple technique of sticking a camera in front of a water tap and capturing the reaction. It also revealed the tap costs money, people clearly do not waste the resource and profits are plied back into the provision of water. “It was very simple, effective and engaging,” he added.

Menka Sanghvi, an innovation researcher and fund leader at the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, commented on Place of Sweet Waters: “It focused on exploring the problem, so people have an opportunity to get involved. There’s a tendency to tell stories about innovation, success, new technologies that might solve a problem because everyone loves a silver bullet. However, stories about problems are much harder to tell,” Sanghvi said.

Sarah Mosses, CEO of Together Films, commended The Hoist. “The main character Kadija looks at local solutions, she is an engineer at the young age of 19, she is a female innovator and designed the entire project herself. I feel extremely empowered!” Mosses said.

Bethlehem Mengistu, Regional Advocacy Manager and Acting Country Representative for WaterAid in Ethiopia, found it difficult to choose a favourite: “I am inspired that so many people from different walks of life are trying to find a solution. This is extremely important for collaboration.”

“The ATM was particularly insightful because the tap itself became a character and explored the social dynamics of tap water. This film neatly captured the different stakeholders needed to provide sustainable water access.”


Journalist, broadcaster and author Alok Jah enjoyed the ATM film because it was very peaceful.

“It was almost like a ‘Gogglebox’ of water development. I could watch it for hours, and imagine other people would want to also. This is a nice bit of journalism, the other films are very good campaigns,” Jah said.

Curious to find out how films can successfully engage audiences, Galloway asked the panel what filmmakers need to do to create successful impact films like those that premiered.

Mosses pleaded with filmmakers to not allow their policy team to write the script. “There needs to be a middle line between a piece directed towards policy change and a piece for the mass public. Films for policy change will have more statistics and be factual, whilst a public piece will be more empathetic,” she said.

An audience member countered this point: The success of a film depends on the anger, drive and passion of the filmmaker to make a change within that subject.”

Jah said: “Journalists are obsessed with things that explode or politicians talking about themselves. The stuff in the middle – everyday life – is ignored because we think no one is interested. Of course it’s harder to make people interested, but that’s what you have to do as a journalist, you have to earn your audience,” Jah said.

“Economics, politics and sustainability can be used as angles to explore ongoing political tensions, particularly in the Middle East where resource wars have secretly initiated current conflict. This will then shed light on other resource issues,” Jah added.

Agreeing with Jah, Mengitsu said concepts need to be translated into something very simple, to leave audiences with a sense of urgency. “In Ethiopia, 58% of the population have access to water, but more needs to be done. Journalists see water stories involving money as newsworthy, such as hydropower. But a lack of water supply or infrastructure is ‘old news’. I really do urge non-traditional actors such as scientists to get involved and demonstrate research to find new solutions.”

To frame the water crisis and its future for a particular audience, the panellists agreed the length and message of the film needs to be carefully thought about, even though there is “no magic formula” as Mosses pointed out.