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Sunday December 5th

Former UNC professor John Briscoe awarded for water work


Former UNC professor John Briscoe (left) received the Stockholm Water Prize earlier this year for his work on global water policies. Courtesy of Marta Briscoe Benton.

Briscoe, a South African native, taught water management from 1981-85 in the environmental science and engineering program at what is now known as the Gillings School of Public Health. Currently, he is a professor at Harvard University.

Briscoe said he felt surprised but proud when he won.

“The award is to me, but I consider it an award to a whole group of people who I call thinking practitioners — the people who actually do things on the field,” he said.

During the ‘80s, Briscoe joined Daniel Okun’s program for water research. Okun, the then-chairman of UNC’s environmental science and engineering department who died in 2007, created a curriculum that allowed students to combine the practice of water management with academics, Briscoe said.

“(Okun) built one of the best environmental sciences programs in the world, which is still the case at UNC,” he said. “I was fortunate to come and ... continue his tradition.”

He said he has been passionate about water policy for most of his life, stemming from his experiences in arid countries.

“I learned about how essential it was to build water platforms, major infrastructure that can ensure that people in industries, cities and agriculture are protected from droughts,” he said.

Briscoe has worked in multiple places across the globe, including Bangladesh, Mozambique and Brazil. In 1986, he started to work for the World Bank, where he oversaw water research for several countries.

When Terry Rhodes, co-chairwoman of UNC’s Water Theme, was asked about her thoughts on Briscoe’s win, her response was quick and assured.

“It’s thrilling and not surprising, just because of the prominence of research on water that’s been here for quite some time,” she said.

Despite the fact that Briscoe no longer teaches at UNC, he still has roots in Chapel Hill. His daughter, Marla Briscoe Benton, and her family still live in the area.

Briscoe Benton, a nurse at Veritas Collaborative in Durham, credited her father for instilling her with a drive for public service.

“He is just an incredible person and human being. It’s just always been (his goal) to help people and to help them lead better lives globally, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”


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