Reflections from the 14th annual Pacific Water and Wastewater Association Conference

Themed ‘Water Resilience, Infrastructure and Climate Change’, the 14th Pacific Water and Wastewater Association Conference was held in Koror, Palau in late September 2023 and drew over 200 water experts from across the Indo-Pacific region.  

The Conference comprised of the 7th Pacific Water and Wastewater Forum and the AWP-funded Young Water Professionals program, and provided an opportunity for participating Young Water Professionals to present to the Ministerial Forum on similarities and differences facing Pacific Islands, and engage in a Q&A session with utility CEOs. 

Young Water Professionals Workshop (Credit: Jesse Alpert)

In his keynote address, HE President Surangel Whipps, Jr highlighted the growing challenges in water security and pricing faced by the Island’s 18000 residents. To respond to these issues, the Palau Public Utilities Corporation introduced the ‘Lifeline Subsidy Program’, providing assistance to low-income households to pay a portion of their utility bills. Minister Charles I. Obichang as the Chairman of the Ministers Forum officially welcomed the delegation and opened the Trade Booth Expo.   

Several AWP Partners shared their learnings and experiences from their projects across the Conference. In particular, the AWP-funded initiative ‘Partnerships for a Resilient and Climate Smart Water Sector,’ presented by the Australian Water Association, Tonga Water Board, and Solomon Water, underscored the importance of effective partnerships.  

A key message was the necessity for collaborative efforts to address the effects of climate change on water resources, infrastructure, and at-risk communities in the Asia-Pacific region. These locally driven partnerships prioritise fair decision-making, capacity building, and knowledge exchange, acknowledging the time and investment needed for their establishment and growth. 

Dean Taylor from Beca Hunter H20 presented findings from the ‘Assessing the Climate Change Readiness of Pacific Island Water and Sanitation Utilities’ tool. The tool evaluates a utility’s ability to plan for and adapt to the risks and impacts of climate change. The project’s findings indicated numerous initiatives in the assessment and planning phase but a scarcity of climate-driven adaptation projects being implemented. 

The Australian High Commissioner to Palau, Richelle Turner spoke on ‘Financing for Resilience, Water Security, and Climate Change’, detailing Australian priorities under the new development policy. She emphasised embedding First Nations Peoples’ perspectives, localisation, gender equality, disability and social inclusion, and climate change, with focus remaining on mitigating the mounting pressures of water security issues in the Pacific. 

Conference group photo (Credit: Jesse Alpert)

In sum, the 2023 Pacific Water and Wastewater Conference was an honour and a privilege to be a part of. A special thanks to Lusia and the Secretariat for delivering such a high quality and informative program. Additionally, sincere appreciation goes to the Palau Public Utility Corporation for their warm and welcoming hospitality.

As the conference concluded, there was a newfound motivation to realise the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association’s vision of, “shaping a high-performing and sustainable water and wastewater utilities sector in the Pacific for collective action.” Echoing the sentiments of PWWA Chairman Dominic Schwawalger, “we can no longer afford to be complacent; climate change is here.” 

Featured image: His Excellency President Surangel Whipps, Jr. delivering keynote address during the Opening Ceremony. Credit: Jesse Alpert
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