Eriberto Eulisse (Venedig)

The Global Network of Water Museums as Vector of Multiple Water Worlds

Today water museums and interpretation centres should strengthen further their role as drivers of sustainable development and water heritage regeneration through education programs aimed at stimulating a new awareness on different water uses.

This challenge is embodied by the Global Network of Water Museums (WAMU-NET): a network that in 2018 was endorsed by the Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP) of UNESCO through the Resolution n.XXIII-5.

The main goals and challenges of this Resolution titled "Global Network of Water Museums and UNESCO-IHP in support of water sustainability education and water awareness efforts" will be addressed and discussed.

Thanks to this Resolution, today WAMU-NET is formally an IHP "flagship initiative" and it is supposed to provide a framework of cooperation for all water museums and interpretation centers focusing on water heritage, both natural and cultural, tangible and intangible. Often, "water museums" (including in this category also eco-museums, interpretation centres, etc) focus only on past water worlds. However, only by bridging past and present water civilizations and uses, and re-connecting people to the inherited hydraulic heritage it is possible to tune citizens (and especially the youth) towards water with an ethical perspective, and change unsustainable behaviors and perceptions.

The main objective of the Resolution above, is to focus on capacity building to strengthen water awareness education and respond to the different needs of museums, institutions and communities which manage multiple local water heritage. Its main goal is to improve perceptions and behaviors of people of all age groups towards more sustainable water uses, and to face the urgent need to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

From the global to the local. The formal acknowledgment of WAMU-NET by UNESCO-IHP testifies how multiple visions aimed at revitalizing in a holistic perspective the inherited, local "water worlds" can be strengthened – if coordinated through a global approach.

Indeed, water museums are today potential key players to transform unsustainable behaviors and management models into sustainable ones. They already perform daily many education activities and receive yearly thousands of visitors (all museums of the Global Network count approx. 25 million visitors/year altogether).

Knowledge and understanding of local water heritage is the primary focus of water museums, but these dimensions are often investigated only with reference to the past and not only for their potential contributions to improve the implementation of SDGs (not only SDG 6, but all SDGGs, as they are all transversally related to water and its sustainable uses).

Many water museums formally associated to WAMU-NET are deeply engaged already in investigating and educating on the inherited hydraulic heritage, in order to protect the liquid element in a context of increasing water crisis and re-connect the local hydraulic heritage to SDGs.

The long-term objective of WAMU-NET is to contribute to enhance integration of SDGs in water museums exhibitions and educational activities. Through dedicated research and training activities, the Global Network aims at coordinating the museums' capacities to continuously update their knowledge on the critical challenges of water management and attitudes, thus favoring transformative changes in people's behaviors and perceptions on water uses, increasing pollution, challenges and disasters linked to climate change.

In this frame, the WAMU-NET contribution to the Marburg conference is aimed at stimulating new possible connections between the activities / priorities of WAMU-NET as a flagship initiative of UNESCO-IHP's, and the new research focus on water settled by the University of Marbourg, in order to broaden the understanding of water as 'multiple water worlds' and integrate it into new possible visions and approaches in current museum exhibitions and interpretation centres.

In this contribution, an overview of different materialities and consideration of water as a 'space of experience' will be discussed from the perspective of different water museums affiliated to WAMU-NET. Such an overview may help to reshaping the broader concept of water as 'multiple modernities'.

WAMU-NET activities are aimed at supporting research and investigations related to any domain which is relevant to water museums. Its activities are aimed at stimulating new research and interdisciplinary approaches, knowledge sharing, applied research and museums' staff exchange through exhibitions, workshops and training. By fostering a stronger integration of SDGs into museums' exhibitions, WAMU-NET is active to stimulate creativity and provide a laboratory of new ideas, supporting the crucial role of local communities for sustainable development, and fostering new partnerships for innovation.

At the same time, water museums should establish closer cooperation with universities and research centres in order to broaden and strengthen their visions and perspectives through trans-disciplinary approaches, including humanities, cultural studies and the arts, favoring also holistic and post-disciplinary approaches.

New transdisciplinary investigations should be fostered to maximizing the social and economic value of local water heritage (both natural and cultural, tangible and intangible) as a driver for sustainable development.

In this frame, WAMU-NET activities are aimed to address capacity building needs and training gaps of different water museums from all over the globe, focusing on water museums in less developed countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.