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Environmental Engineering Professor Named Stockholm Water Prize Laureate

John Briscoe, a Harvard professor who specializes in water management and economic development, received the 2014 Stockholm Water Prize, a prestigious award for achievement in water policy and administration, on Friday.

Briscoe was honored as the Stockholm Water Prize Laureate “for his unparalleled contributions to global and local water management, inspired by an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people on the ground,” according to a press release by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Briscoe earned a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Harvard in 1976 and returned to Harvard as a faculty member in 2009. He currently holds appointments at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Public Health, and the Kennedy School. He teaches undergraduate and graduate-level water management and development courses and has been nominated for prizes for exceptional teaching and mentoring of Harvard students.

The Stockholm Water Prize Committee stated that Briscoe “has combined world-class research with policy implementation and practice to improve the development and management of water resources, as well as access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” according to the press release.

Briscoe’s career, which has focused on water management issues and economic development, spans nearly four decades and multiple continents. He has worked as an epidemiologist in Bangladesh, an engineer for the government of Mozambique, and a country director for the World Bank in Brazil.

Briscoe said he was “completely surprised” when heard he had won the Stockholm Prize.

“I feel the award to me is a recognition of a class of people who work on water—practitioners with one foot in practice and another foot in ideas,” Briscoe said. “I’m a representative of these ‘thinking practitioners.’”

Originally from South Africa, Briscoe said his home country provided him with the formative experiences for his later work. In addition to growing up in a semi-arid region of South Africa with “an acute sense of water scarcity,” Briscoe said he came of age during the era of apartheid.

“My mother ran an orphanage and day-care center in Soweto, and as a child I was inculcated with a sense of tremendous inequality and a quest for the rights of people to develop,” he said.

Founded in 1991, Stockholm Water Prize honors “individuals or organizations whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and to improved well-being of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems,” according to the Stockholm International Water Institute’s website. The Stockholm Water Prize Laureate receives $150,000 and a crystal sculpture.

The king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, will present Briscoe with the prize during the 2014 World Water Week in Stockholm in September.

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