Australia’s skills in water resources well placed to assist global demand for expertise

The Australian Water Partnership provided a quality presence at World Water Forum 8, held in Brasilia over the week of 18th to 23rd of March 2018. AWP hosted a booth over the course of the week and supported the presence of several Australian water experts in plenary sessions.

There were an estimated 600 enquiries at the AWP booth. At the start of the week, much of the interest was in the various products on display, with a keen interest in the reports provided by Australia in support of the High-Level Panel on Water which included the launch of a revised Water Guide.

The International community looks to Australia for water management expertise

Later in the week, visitors to the booth were interested to delve more deeply into Australia’s experiences in water resource management and water reform. There were numerous detailed discussions with delegates, who had expressed their appreciation for Australia’s efforts in water reform and recognised that we had made significant advances in water policy, governance and information management.

The overwhelming representation at the forum was from local Brazilians, who showed a keen interest in the following topics.

  • Our experiences in managing water scarcity under a drought brought into sharp focus by Brazil’s recent experiences of drought and therefore an emerging recognition that reforms are required in relation to water governance and policy;
  • Related to this was a desire to understand Australia’s experiences in water markets and valuing water. There was talk of the Brazilian government possibly introducing pricing measures and delegates were keen to know how our system works. Many had expressed reservations about whether pricing water would gain acceptance in Brazil and whether water markets would be a viable option in a country, whose economy is strongly reliant on irrigated agriculture;
  • Water sensitive urban design and advancements in the water utility sector were also a surprisingly dominant interest area. This is perhaps due to increasing urbanisation in Brazil and the pressures of providing water and sanitation facilities in burgeoning towns and cities. Sao Paulo, for example, is a sprawling city of some 21 million residents, Rio de Janeiro 6 million and the nation’s capital Brasilia around 3 million.
  • Brazilians had expressed strong interest in Australia’s experiences in desalination. It was not clear whether this was seen as a panacea for urban water supply or for irrigation needs. This is a topic that perhaps we have not considered adequately in reporting on Australia’s urban water reform journey;
  • There was also a very keen interest from Brazilians to undertake post-graduate studies in Australia. This comes in-part from many delegates being aware of Australia’s advances in water management and the positive reputation of what our universities can offer in terms of internationally recognised post-graduate qualifications. Our tertiary sector can benefit from marketing in this region to capitalise on the demand and interest from Brazil’s emerging young water professionals.

Future and emerging global water managers

An incredibly positive aspect of the forum was talking to numerous young water professionals in attendance at WWF 8. As contentious as water resource management is, there was a very highly capable and enthusiastic cadre of emerging water professionals. The challenges of water resource management were brought into sharp focus in many of the plenary sessions at the forum but there was also sense that the future is in good hands, with such a vibrant crop of future leaders of the sector.

On the whole, the discussions and attendance at the AWP booth were incredibly energising. It reinforced that there is strong demand for Australia’s expertise in water resource management and recognition that Australia has achieved significant reforms, which others wish to learn from. It confirms that the AWP plays a key role in extending Australian water expertise to a global audience and is an incredibly valuable initiative in Australia’s official development assistance.

Team Australia at the World Water Forum

Tony Slatyer, Special Adviser on Water to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, explains water markets to some young Brazilian water professionals who are keenly interested in Australia’s experience of valuing water.

Australia was represented at WWF 8 by staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and trade, the Bureau of Meteorology, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, AWP Partners, Griffith University, and the International Water Centre. This strong field of representatives not only presented numerous sessions within the forum but participated in many high-level roundtables with international officials and assisted me in fielding queries at the Australian booth. I am certain that participants at WWF 8 gained useful insights from this field of Australian water experts as indicated through the lengthy discussions held with visitors to the booth.

Rob Argent, General Manager – Water, from the Bureau of Meteorology, fields enquiries at the Australia booth. There was keen interest from delegates in the Bureau’s Good Practice Guidelines for Water Data Management Policy.

Mark Pascoe, CEO of the International Water Centre (foreground) and Professor Stuart Bunn of Griffith University (seated in background) provided valuable insights to visitors on Australia’s tertiary education sector.

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