Creativity Prize


psipw5thwinnersteam 4web 4Dr. Rita Colwell (University of Maryland at College Park) and Dr. Shafiqul Islam (Tufts University, USA).

Dr. Colwell and Dr. Islam have developed and tested a model that uses chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks up to six months in advance.

Dr. Rita Colwell, an internationally acclaimed oceanographer and microbiologist, has spent the bulk of her career studying the V. cholerae bacterium that causes cholera. She and her colleagues have found V. cholerae in oceans around the world, in isolated lakes and rivers untouched by faecal contamination, and even in volcanic springs in Iceland. Colwell and her team were the first to use remote satellite data to develop a predictive model for cholera outbreaks in East Asia, and she is the first scientist to link global warming with a potential rise in cases of infectious disease.

Dr. Shafiqul Islam has applied Colwell’s findings to relate chlorophyll levels and cholera outbreaks in the Bay of Bengal. Using satellite data from NASA, he developed a satellite-based model to accurately predict potential cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. The model has been tested with chlorophyll information from satellites over the Bay of Bengal region to predict cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh. The team is currently working on testing the model with ground-based observations.

Winner Profiles

Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Colwell is Distinguished Professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, as well as at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also the President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. She has also been President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Microbiology.


• Ph.D. University of Washington, Oceanography.
• M.S.; Purdue University, Genetics.
• B.S.; Purdue University, Bacteriology.

Selected Awards:

2010: Stockholm Water Prize
2006: National Medal of Science (given by President George W. Bush)
Maryland’s Top 100 Women Hall of Fame
AIBS Outstanding Service Award
Central Intelligence Agency Civilian Recognition Award
National Women’s Hall of Fame
“The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” awarded by the Emperor of Japan
AAUW Award (American Association of University Women)
Medal of Distinction from Columbia University
Gold Medal of Charles University, Prague
UCLA Medal from the University of California, Los Angeles
Alumna Summa Laude Dignata from the University of Washington, Seattle
Honorary Doctor of Science (58 universities and colleges)


Dr. Shafiqul Islam

Dr. Islam is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and First Bernard M. Gordon Senior Faculty Fellow in Engineering at Tufts University. He also holds a joint appointment as Professor of Water Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.


• Ph.D. 1991; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hydrometeorology and Hydro-climatology.
• M.S. 1987; University of Maine, Environmental Engineering.
• B.Sc. 1983; Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Civil Engineering.

Selected Awards:

2004: Bernard M. Gordon Senior Faculty Fellow in Engineering, Tufts University
2004: Distinguished Senior Faculty Research Award, Engineering, University of Cincinnati
2001: Senior Fulbright Scholar
1999: Professor of the Quarter, College of Engineering, University of Cincinnati

Acceptance Speech

Your Royal Highness, Honourable Secretary-General, Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen…

It is really a terrific honour to receive this award, essentially recognition of forty years work to provide safe water to the most impoverished peoples, and to bring a focus to the most bare necessity of human life, which is expressed so well by Your Royal Highness, that is: “safe water, clean water for health and vitality”.

Safe water and sanitation prevent at least twenty-five diseases transmitted by unclean, impure water. Protecting against these diseases is the primary objective of our work. The work began when I was a student and discovered the linkage of the causative agent of cholera, a devastating diarrheal disease, the second most potent killer of children under the age of five. We found the bacteria to be associated with plankton, namely zooplankton, these microscopic creatures abundant in water systems: lakes, rivers, coastal waters, and the oceans.

This relationship of the cholera bacteria with plankton proved insightful, and my early studies led to recognising a simple filter: sari cloth, a cloth material used for women’s dress in many Asian countries, folded three or four times to form an effective filter. In a three-year study, it was shown to reduce cholera by fifty percent, by removing the plankton carrying the bacteria.

But then we realised we could predict cholera by using remote sensing, using satellites already encircling the Earth. The first studies were done in the 1980s, simple but effective twenty-five years ago.

Today, my fellow team-mate will describe our most recent work, and I am currently pursuing a very elegant technique of using DNA extracted from water samples to show the presence of all bacterial and viral plankton parasites in water, and be able to show that when they are removed, the water can be use safely.

So this is the latest battle for human health: removing disease agents from drinking water. I must say that this Prize is most significant because it recognises the most critical, fundamental feature of life on Earth.

Thank you

Rita Colwell


His Excellency Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, His Royal Highness Prince Khaled, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Good Afternoon.

When I learned that our work would be receiving the creativity award, some friends and colleagues asked: “Saudi Arabia is a desert; why are they awarding a water prize?” Upon reflection, I think this is precisely the reason this prize is so important. It acknowledges the vital nature of both water and the development and sharing of global water knowledge.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum identified water crisis as the number one global risk. Yet, in the recently signed COP21 agreement, water did not appear once.

There is a disconnect: Water is everywhere; yet, it is nowhere! 85% of fresh water is used for agriculture; yet, water does not show up in any serious trade negotiation. One child dies every 8 seconds due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Yet, we have not addressed this basic human need.

To address this disconnect between our knowledge of science and our social action, we need to develop global awareness of water for actionable outcome. The days of ‘science for science sake’ have passed; we now need science for societal impact. This is where this prize and the role of UN are vitally important.

Cholera is an old disease and water conflict is not a new problem. Over the last thirty years, my research group has looked at these apparently disconnected water problems to provide synthesis of theory and practice with measurable outcomes.

For this particular problem, hydrology meets microbiology and combines with epidemiology and engineering to develop a satellite-based cholera prediction model. It is a great honor and privilege to work and share this prize with Dr. Colwell who was the first to discover that cholera has an environmental host and can’t be eradicated like small pox.

Vibrio cholera is a bacterium that can live and thrive in two distinctively different environments: micro-environment of human body and macro-environment of aquatic and brackish habitats. The deep disciplinary focus on examining micro- or macro-environmental factors has produced a vast, yet somewhat disconnected, knowledge base of cholera. Despite steady accumulation of detailed knowledge of cholera in these two environments, we still cannot adequately predict when and where the next cholera epidemic will strike.

Consequently, cholera cannot be defeated by medicine alone.

We need a new intervention approach – a cholera warning system - to minimize the impact of this devastating disease by prior planning and implementing effective solutions. Our approach starts with a simple premise: “data-rich” modeling driven by “adaptive-theory”. Such an approach is vital to develop a cholera warning system and implement a “predict and prevent” strategy that includes timely mobilization of treatment resources and effective vaccines for reducing the disease burden.

Our satellite based cholera prediction model has the functionality to be useful for many regions of the world where minimal or no resources are available for ground based measurements. My hope is that our findings will enable the medical and health community to anticipate and prevent cholera outbreaks. I hope it will draw global attention for action and will operationalize this predictive model to save lives.

I must emphasize the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of this work. I am pleased to share this honor with my mentors, students and colleagues who entertain, support, and challenge many of my outrageous questions related to science and society. I want to thank my family: my departed father, for encouraging me to pursue engineering and my wife for always supporting my “strange engineer’s pursuit of thinking and doing science, policy, and diplomacy”. And to my two wonderful daughters and son-in-law for their wise and diligent criticism of my work during our never-ending dinner table conversations.

Thank you PSIPW council for the recognition of our work. I am pleased, honored, and humbled by this award.

Shafiqul Islam

Winning Work

1. Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ali Shafqat Akanda, Shafiqul Islam. "A framework for predicting endemic cholera using satellite derived environmental determinants" Environmental Modeling and Software, 47 (2013) pp. 148-158.

2. Ali Shafqat Akanda, Antarpreet S. Jutla, Munirul Alam, Guillaume Constantin de Magny, A. Kasem Siddique, R. Bradley Sack, Anwar Huq, Rita R. Colwell, Shafiqul Islam. "Hydroclimatic Influences on Seasonal and Spatial Cholera Transmission Cycles: Implications for Public Health Intervention in the Bengal Delta" Water Resources Research, 47 (2011).

3. Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Akanda, Jeffrey Griffiths, Rita Colwell, Shafiqul Islam. "Warming oceans, phytoplankton, and river discharge: Implications for cholera outbreaks" American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 85:2 (2011), pp. 303-308.

4. Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Akanda, Anwar Huq, Abu Syed Faruque, Rita Colwell, Shafiqul Islam, "A water marker monitored by satellites to predict seasonal endemic cholera framework for predicting endemic cholera" Remote Sensing Letters, vol. 4, no. 8 (2013), pp. 822–831.

5. Anwar Huq, Mohammed Yunus, Syed Salahuddin Sohel, Abbas Bhuiya, Michael Emch, Stephen P. Luby, Estelle Russek-Cohen, G. Balakrish Nair, R. Bradley Sack, Rita R. Colwell. "Simple Sari Cloth Filtration of Water Is Sustainable and Continues To Protect Villagers from Cholera in Matlab, Bangladesh" MBIO, volume 1, number 1 (April 2010).

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