“Plumbing needs to be recognised
as an engineering discipline and
a plumbing skills and knowledge
‘Plumbers should be
the first port of call’
The 34th Annual Lecture of The Worshipful Company of
Plumbers centered on issues such as sanitation, water
shortages, climate change, water quality and the vital role
today’s plumbers have to play. HPM editor, Tim Wood, reports.
When British Medical Journal
(BMJ) readers were asked to
name the greatest medical
advance since 1840, sanitation
came top of the list. More than 11,300
readers chose the ‘the sanitary revolution’
as the most important medical milestone
since BMJ first published, eclipsing
even the discovery of antibiotics and the
development of anaesthesia.
The importance of achieving adequate
sanitation and hygiene for all was just one
of many issues discussed by Professor Malo
Rao, senior clinical fellow at the Imperial
College in London, last month.
The WaterAid trustee was speaking at the
Royal College of Physicians, having been
invited to give the 34th Annual Lecture by
The Worshipful Company of Plumbers.
The Professor began by revealing that
the UN agreed 17 sustainable development
goals (SDGs) in 2015, with the purpose to
end poverty, improve the lives of the poor
and transform the world by 2030. Goal
six is to ensure availability and sustainable
management of water and sanitation for all.
An estimated 89% of the world has clean
water in or near home, but for too many
water is becoming increasingly scarce
Professor Rao revealed that more than
60% of humanity lives in areas of water
stress, which leaves 844 million with long
journeys for clean water or dependent on
contaminated wells, rivers and ponds.
Offering Cape Town as an example,
Professor Rao explained that, despite
being one of the wealthier countries in
the world, the coastal city in South Africa
was experiencing its worst drought for a
century. It begged the question: Could 2018
be remembered as the year when the first of
the world’s great cities ran out of water?
Professor Rao intimated that the UK was
not going to escape the lack of water issue?
“The UK is commonly perceived as wet,
but population density is high, rainfall
varies across the country,” she said.
“For each person, relatively little water
is available and the South East and East
of England is already facing increasing
demand on finite supply.
“Our water intensive lifestyles, we use
up to 150 litres per day, leaves less for
wildlife and the environment and this is
Professor Rao then discussed whether
climate change was responsible for too
much water in the UK.
“Six of the seven wettest and eight of the
warmest years on record have been seen in
the UK since 2000,” she said.
“We have seen the largest loss of essential
services since World War II.
“The floods in England, which saw
13 people die, were ranked as the most
expensive in 2007 of the 200 floods
experienced globally that year.
“In January 2014, a major incident in
Somerset resulted in 600 homes being
flooded and communities cut off, while
17,000 acres of land lay underwater. People
were not only left scared, but angry too.”
Professor Rao highlighted that the risks
to water quality, were not limited to the
The World Plumbing Council (WPC)
reports on risks from; ageing plumbing
infrastructure; exposure to toxins such as
lead and asbestos; waterborne diseases such
as legionella and new risks from products
such as plastics.
So what role could everyone play to
achieve the UN’s SDG6?
“Water, sanitation and hygiene are global
challenges,” said Professor Rao.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility, everyone’s
business and everyone’s opportunity to
unite, and help make a difference. We
need to foster collaborations to enhance
framework is needed”
Professor Rao gives her enthralling lecture
Professor Rao proposed a number of
options for action.
“We need a stronger voice at the
international, national and regional top
tables,” she said, “and we need the WPC to
unite the world plumbing industry for the
benefit of all.
“We also need to look at funding. Over
80% of countries have insufficient finance
to meet national water, sanitation and
Professor Rao said it was possible to set
up companies that could make a difference
to the lives of people across the globe.
“In 1981, the UK water industry founded
WaterAid and that is now an £80 million
a year organisation with a presence in 34
countries,” she added.
Professor Rao believes any competent
plumber has a vital role to play:
• to design, install and maintain drinking
water supply and waste removal systems
• to manage the health and financial risks
associated with plumbing
• to help conserve limited supplies of safe
“Plumbing needs to be recognised as
an engineering discipline and a plumbing
skills and knowledge framework is needed,”
“We need to address the challenges of
skills shortages, advancing technology and
an industry-perceived lack of continuity
from education and training to the world
“Together, we can make a major
difference through our advocacy and
a refreshed and renewed approach
to training, regulation, practice and
Professor Rao finished her lecture by
referring to a quote from the World Health
Organisation: ‘Plumbers are the most
important frontline health workers round
“They are the first port of call, not the
doctor,” she concluded.
*For the full presentation including all of the
citations and sources used, visit:
18 Heating & Plumbing Monthly | JUNE 2018 | www.hpmmag.com