David Kinnersley

Water economist who co-founded the international charity WaterAid
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The Independent Online

David Kinnersley inspired the creation of WaterAid, now an international charity providing clean water and sanitation in developing countries. He understood the power of clean water to reduce disease, promote economic growth and help people out of extreme poverty.

David John Kinnersley, administrator and water economist: born Southend-on-Sea, Essex 28 May 1926; special assistant to the Chairman, National Coal Board 1950-56; assistant to the General Manager, Yorkshire Coal Field 1956-58; Administrative Manager, UKAEA Risley 1958-64; Deputy General Manager, then General Manager, British Waterways Board 1964-69; Director, Association of River Authorities 1970-73; Chief Executive, North West Water Authority 1973-76; economic adviser, National Water Council 1976-83; joint founder, WaterAid 1981; Research Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford 1983-84; Fellow and Bursar, Mansfield College, Oxford 1985-86; married 1950 Barbara Fair (one son, two daughters); died Chesham, Buckinghamshire 2 December 2004.

David Kinnersley inspired the creation of WaterAid, now an international charity providing clean water and sanitation in developing countries. He understood the power of clean water to reduce disease, promote economic growth and help people out of extreme poverty.

To coincide with the launch in 1980 of the UN's Water Decade, as an economic adviser to the National Water Council Kinnersley organised a UK conference, "Thirsty Third World". From this, supported by Sir Robert Marshall, chairman of the council, he found a small group of like minds and WaterAid was born. At first, gaining support was uphill work, so it was Kinnersley's enthusiasm, drawing widespread support from the UK's water industry, that kept it going.

He was a Founder Trustee of WaterAid and remained an active, challenging but always constructively critical board member until 1997. He retained a keen interest in the charity, which since 1981 has grown to an income of £20m with large programmes in 15 of the world's poorest countries. Kinnersley regarded his achievement in getting WaterAid off the ground and witnessing its subsequent progress as giving him the greatest satisfaction of his working life.

David Kinnersley's undergraduate years at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, were interrupted by National Service. He gained a double First in Economics in 1950. From here he chose public industry, wanting to be a part of building a better Britain in the post-war era. He entered the National Coal Board and whilst there was greatly influenced by the ideas of E.F. Schumacher (economic adviser to the NCB, 1950-70).

In 1958 Kinnersley went to work at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, then became deputy general manager, then general manager, of the British Waterways Board, the first of his posts connected with water. He went on to be director of the Association of River Authorities before becoming the first chief executive of the North West Water Authority in 1973. In 1976 Kinnersley became Senior Economic Adviser to the National Water Council. He developed, through an industry committee, principles for charging for sewerage, sewage disposal, water supply and metering which have largely stood the test of time.

When proposals for the privatisation of the water industry were first mooted in 1985, Kinnersley was one of the first to question the idea that a private-sector industry should also continue to act as the environmental regulator. Once Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for the Environment, came to recognise these arguments, Kinnersley became his adviser in fleshing out the role of what became the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency).

In 1983, Kinnersley returned to academic life as a research fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford and then Fellow and Bursar of Mansfield College. He also acted as adviser to the World Bank and governments worldwide on water management; for example, assisting the fledgling post-apartheid South African government in bringing water to the townships.

Kinnersley's two books, Troubled Water (1980) and Coming Clean (1994), give a vivid picture of water flowing through history and countries, of the impossibility of owning it, but of its being crucially useful to those who live around it. Education was a passion for Kinnersley, who encouraged youngsters to aim high and see what could be achieved.

Kinnersley was a splendid letter-writer and kept in touch with people from his university days onwards. His letters were occasionally challenging, sometimes inspirational. Although he could be fiercely argumentative in private, he was a loyal and honest colleague. At home, he was a great storyteller and his children have vivid memories of laughter and fun arising from the stories, jokes and games all of his own creation.

Following a stroke in 1994, Kinnersley bore his subsequent disablement with courage and spirit, and his wife, Barbara, cared for him with much love and kindness during these years.

Valerie Lowther, John Isherwood, Vic Cocker and Clare Kinnersley

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