Dr Amal Punchihewa is a Chartered Professional Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. FIET (UK), Senior Member of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, IEEE (USA), Fellow (Rtd.) Engineering New Zealand, Researcher CRISiSLab, JCDR, Massey University, Distinguished Lecturer – IEEE-Broadcast Technology, STEM/Wonder project Ambassador of Engineering New Zealand, IET and IEEE
At the moment, the world we live in is full of complex challenges, including conflict, inequality and poverty that have been exacerbated by a global pandemic and wars. At the same time, we face the urgent and unprecedented impacts of climate and environmental crises; and we are experiencing increased and fast-evolving global security risks, such as transnational crime, cyber threats, and disasters.
As most of us are aware, each member of the UN (United Nations) has undertaken a non-binding commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When we consider the role that Aotearoa New Zealand and its occupants play, we can do a lot at home, amongst the international community and in our green approach as there is much to offer.
March 4th – World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development
Engineering has always had an essential role in the development and human welfare. Ensuring that future generations of engineers and scientists will be able to design solutions for local and global challenges is critical. The World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development (WED) is an official International day proclaimed in 2019 by the United Nationals Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This was based on a proposal from the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO). WED is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and the contribution of the world’s engineers for a better, sustainable world. UNESCO’s General Conference proclaimed the 4 March World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development during its 40th session in November 2019 (40 C/64), to raise awareness of the role of engineering in modern life, which is essential to mitigate the impact of climate change and advance sustainable development, especially in Africa and the small island developing states (SIDS).
This year’s World Engineering Day is Saturday, March 4th and the theme of World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development 2023 is “Engineering innovation for a more resilient world“. This is a very timely theme as we experienced floods in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, the northern and eastern part of the North Island from cyclone Gabrielle over a period creating unprecedented floods several times. Within two weeks, many residential and commercial properties, vehicles, roads and other critical infrastructure were destroyed and also took 9 lives. We talk about the resilience of the people and new approaches in the recovery process to be innovative and to minimise risk. Never before has our resilience, globally, as a country, and individually, been more important. Hence, the 2023 theme ‘Engineering innovation for a more resilient world’ is more appropriate and timely.
Engineers with the community who live in disaster-prone areas need to take into account the development process more sustainable and to be innovative while making them affordable, equitable, and inclusive and meeting the purpose with the least impact on the natural ecological system. This was emphasised recently by a geologist and a researcher who presented to the members of the Engineering New Zealand Manawatu branch and others who attended the event on the topic “Manawatu River and flood mitigation”.
World Engineering Day is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and the contribution of the world’s engineers for a better, sustainable world. Engineering has helped to shape the world for millennia and now more than ever, the world needs engineering. Engineering is one of the keys to sustainable development, and to unlock all its potential, there needs to be more equality in the world. As we face yet another year of unprecedented challenges from storms and cyclones, it seems fitting that this theme has resilience. The reflections and celebrations at a local, national and international level should aim at protecting our lives and health, delivering economic well-being and protecting our climate and environment for generations to come. I also believe that there is a role for all engineers.
As a researcher in disaster management and communication with CRISiSLab of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR) of Massey University, I acknowledge that there is a critical role that everybody should play, including people, government and other agencies. Everybody must function to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are embedded in an approach that supports critical outcomes to build a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable and prosperous society. Alongside that commitment there is a role for civil society to ensure that there is an enduring social and democratic duty to meet those objectives, there is also a role for the private sector too.
UNESCO is placing a high priority on activities that promote awareness of engineering as a career, as well as on those that demonstrate the importance of youth studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
By Amal Punchihewa (PhD)