July 1, 2019

An international leader in global water policy, peace and security, Aaron Salzberg, PhD, has been selected to be the Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor and director of The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Aaron Salzberg

Dr. Aaron Salzberg

Salzberg joins the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering as a long-established leader in water policy. As the Department of State’s first special coordinator of water and chief of the Water Division within the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Salzberg led the development of United States foreign policy on drinking water and sanitation, water resources management and transboundary water issues to advance sustainable economic growth, peace and security.

Salzberg also led the development of the first U.S. government-wide Global Water Strategy and worked routinely with international partners to establish global norms and practices that promoted sustainable development and integrated management of water resources through the United Nations, the G7 and many other multilateral fora. During his tenure at the State Department, U.S. development assistance for drinking water and sanitation increased more than tenfold in countries of significant need, and more than 10 million people benefited from improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation during this period.

As director of The Water Institute at UNC, Salzberg aims to change the way the world works on water through scientific discovery, technical innovation and policy leadership. Estimates suggest that nearly two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to be living under water stressed conditions by 2025. Floods, water scarcity and poor water quality will increase the spread of disease, undermine economic growth, limit food production, drive migration and threaten peace, security and human rights in many regions of the world.

“I couldn’t be more excited to come on board as the new director,” Salzberg said. “UNC has a long history of producing world leaders in water, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to contribute and to be part of the UNC and broader Research Triangle community.”

“The Water Institute at UNC is an important, visible expression of our School’s commitment to tackling big public health challenges in North Carolina and around the globe,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School. “Communities across North Carolina and around the world face daunting challenges when it comes to water. Aaron’s unique skills and experiences will help us to be an even more effective problem solver, not by ourselves alone but through strategic partnerships. He is the ideal leader to take the Water Institute from an exceptional, globally recognized organization to one that is the unparalleled leader in global and local water issues.”

Salzberg’s primary goal is to merge policy and practice and focus the Water Institute on advancing real-world solutions to the most pressing water and sanitation challenges. He also will help to inspire the next set of policy leaders, practitioners and researchers who will lead North Carolina and the world toward a more water secure future.

“People must have access to sustainable supplies of water of the right quantity and quality to survive and thrive,” Salzberg observed. “The risks otherwise are real but often ignored. Diarrheal disease due to unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of death in children worldwide — this is wholly preventable. What’s more, without water, local livelihoods are lost and this becomes a source of migration and conflict and supports terrorist recruitment.”

Salzberg holds bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, and both a Master of Science in technology and public policy and a doctoral degree in genetic toxicology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is committed to partnership development and conflict resolution and has been the lead water adviser to five Secretaries of State, negotiated major international agreements, and created partnerships that strengthened the United States’ and international community’s capacity to address global water challenges.

Salzberg succeeds Jamie Bartram, the inaugural Water Institute director, who retired from UNC in June. Bartram launched the Water Institute at UNC in 2010 to “provide global academic leadership for economically, environmentally, socially and technically sustainable management of water, sanitation and hygiene for equitable health and human development.” The Institute is well-respected for its policy-relevant research around drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) and the annual Water and Health Conference, which has facilitated the development of a vibrant international community working to solve global WaSH issues.

“There has never been a more important time for evidence-based leadership in water policy,” said Barbara Turpin, PhD, chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. “The World Health Organization lists climate change as the number one threat to global health, in part because of the disruptive implications of droughts, floods and severe weather events. We have seen, right here in North Carolina, that issues of water access, water quality and severe weather impact well-being and exacerbate health and economic inequities. We are delighted that Aaron Salzberg is joining us to build on Jamie Bartram’s leadership and tackle these critically important issues.”


Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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