The water imperative

Water is fundamental to all life on Earth and its sustainable management is critical to the well-being of human societies. Rarely is one sector so important to achieving positive outcomes in numerous other sectors—food security, energy security, biodiversity and ecosystem health, disaster management—as well as many human needs from water supply and sanitation to recreation, spiritual and cultural requirements. It is no wonder that ‘water’ has risen to be consistently one of the top issues on the international development agenda.

On 1 January 2016, 193 countries around the world officially began implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—a transformative plan of action based on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—to address urgent global challenges over 15 years. Water has been integrated into this United Nations initiative and is relevant in some way to all 17 SDGs, and to eight SDGs explicitly. Goal 6 is fully devoted to water: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, for the first time explicitly incorporating sustainable management of water.

Australia has played a global leadership role, as one of eleven countries on the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), which kick-started the implementation of Goal 6. Australia’s leadership on water data, water use efficiency and innovation has enhanced our profile internationally and provided a platform to expand use of our recognised expertise for diplomatic, development and commercial outcomes.

Australia’s experience in water reform in a federal system of government, the application of science to build the foundation for national water policy, and the establishment of policies and institutions to ensure the sustainability of reforms are of keen international interest. The emerging international water crisis presents Australia with an urgent and timely opportunity to share its experience in sustainable water management to improve water security. AWP plays a key role in enabling this response.

Origins and growth

In May 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) established the AWP through the Australian aid program under an initial four-year, $20 million grant. AWP was conceived to respond to the water management needs of developing countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, specifically on topics where Australia has specialist expertise in short supply globally.

AWP has proven itself as the timely provider of high-quality services to meet the specific requirements of developing countries, and following an independent Mid Term Review by DFAT, it was approved for a second four-year grant to 2023.

Through collaborative, trusted partnerships, and leveraging limited available resources, AWP is achieving significant outcomes.