Reflections on Ozwater

The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) actively participated in Ozwater’23, a prominent event in the water industry organised by the Australian Water Association held in May 2023. The event provided a platform for AWP to engage with partners, gain insights into the latest water-related developments in Australia, and network with regional partners involved in the ‘International Partnerships for Water and Climate Action’ stream which AWP supported as the official International Development Partner for Ozwater. We ran a booth collaboratively with WaterAid, showcasing both organisations work across SDG6.

AWP Engagement at Ozwater’23

The ‘International Partnerships for Water and Climate Action’ stream was co-convened by AWP and AWA as an opportunity to hear perspectives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) development banks, international organisations, as well as utilities and utility associations from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Region. The first session explored the theme of partnerships between stakeholders from diverse cultural backgrounds and how they approach development work through partnerships. The second session included how international organisations are building climate resilient water management at a programmatic level, and insights on how water utilities from across Southeast Asia and the Pacific are approaching climate adaptation and mitigation.

Many of the participants in the panels are engaged in the AWP supported Partnerships for a Resilient and Climate Smart Water Sector activity being implemented through the Australian Water Association. The activity is enabling two-way knowledge exchange and capacity building, as well as forging partnerships to influence water effective and climate resilient policies in the region. Representatives from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Pacific took part in site visits with their Australian partner utilities following Ozwater.

In addition to the International Stream, AWP organised a panel discussion on ‘Diverse values of water – convergence of Indigenous, traditional, local, and western knowledge for climate-resilient water management.’ The panel drew from the World Bank and AWP publication on Valuing Water and provided a platform to explore the different perspectives and value systems associated with water management, including Indigenous and traditional knowledge.

Expert panelists included Sonia Cooper from Yorta Yorta, Sarah Leck from Aither, Nick Austin from Watertrust, and Matt Dadswell from the Department of Climate Change, Environment, Energy, and Water. Small group discussions explored the inclusive use of different knowledge systems, the influence of climate change on water values, and the management of trade-offs.

The panel and group discussions explored various aspects of valuing water but also expanded beyond this to understand value systems in water usage and management. Managing water goes beyond scientific challenges and requires recognition of social and cultural factors. It is also important to recognise that managing water for different uses, including environmental purposes, is primarily a social and political challenge rather than a purely scientific one. Consequently, investment is needed in understanding the social and cultural value of water to optimise social, economic, environmental, and cultural outcomes.

Discussions also stressed the need for including a wide range of stakeholders, including economists, ecologists, and traditional owners, in understanding the value of water for different uses. Such an understanding would support the development of climate-resilient infrastructure and management practices. For example, Sonia Cooper from Yorta Yorta discussed the impacts of climate change on Country, emphasising the significance of soil and its interaction with water in the context of Indigenous perspectives.

Overall, the session shed light on the importance of recognising and incorporating diverse knowledge systems and values in water management, particularly in the face of climate change. It emphasised the need for inclusive and collaborative approaches to incorporate diverse values into decision-making processes.

Key takeaways from Ozwater

The event was an opportunity to explore concepts and ideas from the thought-provoking keynotes such as those on neurodiversity and cultural intelligence, and gain inspiration from approaches such as the Yarning Circle to share water stories.

Across the event there was increased recognition of the importance of Traditional Owners’ knowledge, with the keynote from Cultural IQ emphasizing the significance of incorporating Indigenous perspectives to procurement, employment, and stakeholder engagement. Local context and understanding were also recognised particularly in areas where data is scarce, and stressed the need for Indigenous women to have a voice in projects to ensure the full utilisation of Indigenous knowledge. An example shared by Yarra Valley Water highlighted the benefits of place-based planning and engagement with local communities in supporting biodiversity conservation.

Overall, the event provided valuable opportunities for networking, knowledge sharing, and exploring partnerships for climate-resilient water management. The event highlighted the significance of incorporating diverse perspectives, including Indigenous knowledge, and the importance of effective communication and collaboration to address water-related challenges and achieve sustainable water management goals.

Featured image: Delegates from AWP, Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association  and Vietnam’s Can Tho Water Utility at Ozwater’23.
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