top of page

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management

Wastewater isn't just a challenge; it's an untapped resource waiting to be harnessed for a sustainable future. Dive into the world of cutting-edge water recycling technologies, innovative projects, and strategies transforming wastewater into wealth. 💧🌱

Discover the inspiring journey of Dr. Nidhi Nagabhatla, working on waste water management with more than 20 years of experience!

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management

Hi, I am Dr. Nidhi Nagabhatla! I am working at the Climate and Natural Resources United Nations University in Bruges. My role involves coordinating initiatives, contributing to environmental governance, and managing projects, activities, and impact pathways.

Why water management and security?

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management
Exploration study at Pastoruri Glacier , Peru

I embarked on a journey spanning academic, governmental, and non-profit sectors, channeling my dedication to environmental science, a commitment forged in the serene embrace of Doon Valley, India. Nestled amidst towering mountains, pristine rivers, and rich biodiversity, this idyllic town fueled my passion for nature's intricacies. Growing up amid nature instilled a profound connection between humanity and the environment. This intrinsic bond motivated me to unravel the intricate nexus between nature and society. Within esteemed academic institutions, I delved into research, explored innovative ideas, and mentored future environmental stewards. In the realm of government, I actively engaged in policy-making and implementation, addressing environmental challenges on a broader canvas. Here, I honed my skills in utilizing cutting-edge tools like satellite data and remote sensing. Venturing into the non-profit sector with organizations like CGIAR, IUCN, and the UN offered a unique platform to contribute to sustainability directly. Driven by a commitment to catalyze transformative change towards a sustainable future for all.

My missions

I have advocated innovations in water management, emphasizing novel ideas to improve water security and highlighted the importance of partnerships and cooperation in conveying the message forward and achieving meaningful progress in water security, recently drawing on the framework on circular economy pathways for wastewater management.

My contributions to global water security and sustainable water management have helped advance global water governance and the need for ensuring multidimensional aspects of water management are well addressed while tackling the challenges of water security, sustainability, and development. I have been a promotor of the United Nations' approach to Water Security By involvement in developing a comprehensive and context-specific water security planning framework that addresses the complex needs and interests associated with shaping water resilient communities.

Some of my articles:

With expertise in institutional and policy analysis, I have also actively contributed to water security and disaster management, especially in Small Island Developing States and risk management.

My activities have always followed a multidisciplinary approach, encompassing research, education, and collaborative initiatives, demonstrating my commitment to addressing the global water crisis, advancing sustainable water management practices, and ensuring water security for present and future generations.

A day with me

Working as a UN senior official involves dynamic and multifaceted responsibilities, contributing to global initiatives and fostering collaboration at all levels- global to local. While each day varies, a general overview can provide insight into the role's nature.

I kick off the day early, diving into a sea of emails and updates. Gotta stay in the loop with all those time-sensitive responsibilities. The UN is like a global puzzle, so staying on top of international happenings is a must—cue the deep dive into reports like the Global Risk Report or any recent reports linked to SDG’s.

Mornings are a mix of brainy discussions, research dives, and decision-making huddles with my fantastic team and brilliant scholars. We're crafting agendas and shaping up initiatives, setting the stage for some profound impact.

Afternoons? Well, they're all about the global powwows! I'm hopping into meetings with UN and UNU buddies, trying to catch that perfect Paris time for a chat that suits everyone worldwide. The goal? Beefing up partnerships and tackling shared challenges head-on.

Then comes the project patrol. I'm the captain steering ongoing projects, making sure they sail smoothly in line with our strategic plan. Regular check-ins and evaluations are the compass guiding us, helping us see where we're crushing it and spot areas screaming for an upgrade.

And let's not forget the glam part—events and conferences. I'm out there, advocating for our UN magic, swapping stories, and soaking in the wisdom from fellow changemakers. It's a wild ride, but someone's gotta do it!

My background

A transformative moment emerged during my doctoral journey, immersed in the intricacies of small island systems, specifically the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Exploring satellite data, decision support systems, and policy frameworks broadened my horizons, shaping a multidimensional perspective.

Post-doctoral experiences with international agencies honed my communication skills and nurtured a systems-focused mindset, ultimately guiding me to a significant role within the UN system. Departing from a purely academic trajectory, this transition underlines my conviction that the UN, as a global entity, holds the potential to assist nations and communities in charting sustainable paths.

Currently spearheading operations at UNU, my focus extends beyond academic realms, emphasizing the importance of skill development for youth and undertaking research with impact. Recognizing learning opportunities as catalysts, I believe they empower individuals to approach challenges with heightened sensitivity, fostering a global mindset.

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management
Participating in Dialogue on Socioecological Resilience at Résilience Hub -COP28 with stakeholders from international communities, business sector, subject experts and indigenous people representative

My journey exemplifies the transformative power of diverse experiences, from academic pursuits to international collaborations within the UN, solidifying my commitment to sustainable global solutions.

My academic and professional journey is deeply rooted in the aspiration to contribute to environmental science meaningfully. It is fueled by a desire to address diverse sustainability challenges, especially in regions grappling with environmental and climate crises. My transdisciplinary approach allowed me to seamlessly integrate scientific knowledge with practical applications, fostering a holistic understanding of environmental complexities and solutions.

What I would have said to the younger Nidhi: Embracing Individuality and Cultivate Self-Awareness

Encourage me to embrace my unique qualities without fear of being different. Understand that diversity is a strength and that your individuality is an asset in navigating life's journey. Stress the significance of self-acceptance. Remind my younger self that embracing flaws and imperfections is a part of the human experience, fostering personal growth and resilience. I will encourage myself to cultivate self-confidence, as confidence is a critical element of facing challenges and pursuing opportunities.

Understand that treating yourself with kindness is essential for mental and emotional well-being. Be more lenient in the exploration of passions and interests. By delving into what excites me, I reckon that one can discover a true calling and find fulfillment in one’s own pursuits.

Being a women in STEM

In my academic journey, conducting doctoral research in 2001 exposed me explicitly to the gender-related challenges entrenched in the STEM field. Focused on the application of satellite data for natural resource management, I navigated a landscape with limited representation of women, particularly in advanced applications. Biased perceptions lingered, creating a subtle atmosphere of isolation. Many incidents during my research journey stand out when preconceived notions challenged my positioning/expertise. In response, I embraced the challenge with deep reflection, determined to break stereotypes.

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management
Keynote address at the International Conference “Nature-based solutions (NBS) for improvement of water quality and river basin management” in Riga, Latvia supporting Project Life GoodWater

Over the years, a positive shift has occurred. The landscape has transformed with increased awareness and initiatives addressing gender biases. Gender awareness-raising campaigns and advocacy groups have played a pivotal role in fostering a broader understanding of individuals' challenges due to gender stereotypes. This heightened awareness has translated into tangible changes, fostering inclusive environments and challenging discriminatory practices. Recognizing that overcoming gender discrimination is a collective responsibility, I actively contribute by encouraging my students to be sensitive to gender issues. I consistently practice a balanced approach in my professional activities, striving to create a more equitable and representative environment.

The journey continues, fueled by the belief that every effort contributes to achieving gender equality in STEM and beyond.

Note our new policy brief  focusing on gender issues launched last week: A Regional Overview of Gender Sensitive Dimensions in the European Agricultural Sector.


With diverse roles in sustainability science and systems analysis, I have contributed to transdisciplinary projects across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Affiliations with esteemed institutions played vital roles in sustainability research and science-policy interfacing. I have actively participated in global initiatives, serving as the Chair of The Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (UNEP) and co-leading the 'Water and Migration Working Group' at The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. I am actively involved with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) as my commitment to environmental sustainability

A key aspect of my work that I am very proud of is mentoring young professionals ( of hundreds of students that I have supervised and mentored, more than 75% are women and girls, and this has been a conscious decision from my end), and I see that an investment expanding impact on sustainability and fostering positive changes on a global scale. As I continue my journey, I am motivated to drive meaningful transformations toward a more sustainable and equitable world.

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management
Chairing a session at COP 28 in Dubai (Drying, Droughts, Desertification, and Mental Health: Addressing Gaps and Needs For Community Well-Being) details : Recording at :

My hobbies

I find immense joy in exploring the wonders of nature ( coast and forests), immersing myself in vibrant markets, and savoring the rich experience of a well-brewed coffee in charming cafes.

While, nature serves as my sanctuary, providing a retreat to reconnect with the earth's beauty. From hikes in lush forests, gazing at the mountain vistas, taking a moment for deep appreciation for the environment. Markets, with their bustling energy and diverse offerings, captivate my senses. Whether strolling through local (mostly old) markets I am able to appreciate the rich tapestry of cultures. I like to walk into a well-designed café, and I appreciate the meticulous process that transforms coffee beans into a delightful elixir brewed to perfection; the aromatic and nuanced flavors of a well-extracted coffee, with every sip, reflected, and appreciate the feeling of a good cup of coffee. From vintage-inspired coffee shops to trendy urban spaces, each café tells a story.

During a complex project, I apply the communication skills I have developed outside of work

Throughout my various activities outside of work, I've gained valuable life lessons that seamlessly translated into my professional endeavors. One notable lesson is the power of effective communication, which I honed through my involvement in various work-focused activities.

For example, in high-level sessions at Climate COPs 28 and COP 29, I applied the learning of clear communication, which also helped me capture and understand diverse perspectives within the stakeholder and helped me articulate insights and listen actively. This skill significantly influenced my current work as a program manager at UNU.

During a complex project, I apply the communication skills I have developed outside of work to ensure team cohesion. I facilitate a collaborative environment by fostering open dialogue and addressing concerns promptly. This not only strengthened team dynamics but also helped to enhance project efficiency and outcomes.

Moreover, the importance of adaptability dealing with unexpected challenges outside the workplace equipped me with a proactive mindset when facing uncertainties in my professional projects.

Balancing personal and professional life

Finding equilibrium between work and personal life is essential for well-being; women have to juggle multiple roles. To achieve a balance, I prioritize and set boundaries in both professional and personal spheres and maintain a separation between work and personal time. Embrace Self-Care to recharge physically and emotionally and allocate time for activities that bring joy and relaxation.

Working in a UN system, it can be challenging to plan and organize your schedule in the long term; there are many tasks with strict deadlines, and I try to allot specific time blocks for work and personal commitments. Learning to say ‘No’ I have learned that we should not hesitate to decline additional tasks when our plate is full. Setting limits helps maintain a manageable workload.

Give time to learn new skills to leverage technology to streamline work processes and enhance efficiency. Cultivate a robust support system, whether family, friends, or colleagues. Share responsibilities and seek assistance when needed. Schedule regular breaks during work hours to refresh your mind, I go out for long walks in the natural landscapes to unwind and rejuvenate.

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management
Exploration study at Pastoruri Glacier , Peru

Role models

Amid the remarkable cohort of women standing resilient against adversities to amplify their voices and lead, an inspiring figure emerges whose influence echoes through sustainability and climate action. I have closely interacted with Dr. Helen Leitch a prominent global scientist who exemplifies the embodiment of dedication and impact. Her extensive research has informed livestock management strategies and helped shape livelihood and income-supporting policies in the Global South and beyond. Her unwavering commitment, power of knowledge, advocacy, and perseverance in influencing positive change always inspired me, encouraging me to stand firm and be heard.

Some pieces of advices

Embracing the exciting world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is not just a journey; it's a transformative experience that empowers girls and women to shape the future. To all the brilliant girls and women out there, here's a heartfelt note to encourage you on this incredible path:

Your unique perspectives and ideas are invaluable. Believe in your capabilities, for you belong here.

Be Curious and Explore: STEM is about curiosity and exploration. Dive into the wonders of science, challenge yourself, and never be afraid to ask questions.

Every question holds the potential for discovery: Seek inspiration from all incredible women who have paved their way to be leaders. Their stories showcase resilience, brilliance, and the impact one can make. These women and girls are all around you; connect with them and be a collective focus.

Your voice matters. Use it to advocate for inclusivity and diversity. Your perspective is essential in shaping a future where everyone's contributions are celebrated: Build a network of supportive individuals who encourage and uplift each other. Together, we can overcome challenges and achieve greatness.

Remember, the journey is not just about studying; it's about being an active voice, shaping the narrative, and contributing to the collective knowledge that propels humanity forward.

Dream big, work hard, and let your passion illuminate the path to a brighter, more inclusive future. With excitement and encouragement from one among you.

Edited by Mazzarine D., Lea C. And Manon P.

Find her here:

Nidhi Nagabhatla: Exploring the Hidden Opportunities in Wastewater Management

27 views0 comments


logo sci gi.png
bottom of page