Piloting WaterGuide to address water scarcity in the Indo-Pacific

Water scarcity is already a reality in some areas of the Indo-Pacific, with the severity and scope of its impacts forecast to increase dramatically in the years ahead. While addressing water scarcity is an ambitious and complex task, Australia’s experience shows how different solutions can be implemented to achieve tangible outcomes.

While it manifests differently in various countries and regions, the impacts of water scarcity are similar – jeopardising food supplies, economic growth, environmental sustainability, and the viability of human settlements. In contexts of competing demands for water, widespread pollution, insufficient financing, or poor governance, new responses to water scarcity are required.

Reflecting this experience, WaterGuide has been developed by Australian water policy experts as an organising framework for improved water management and use in response to scarcity. Prepared as a contribution to the High Level Panel on Water (2016–2018), WaterGuide has been successfully piloted through high-level policy dialogues and practical technical assistance projects in Jordan, Mexico, Senegal and Iran.

To further collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has supported Aither to convene workshops for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank. Attended also by ARCOWA, eWater, DFAT and DAWR, the workshops provided Australian and international insights and approaches in response to water scarcity and were aimed at identifying possible pathways to leverage available approaches to enhance water management in client countries.

The IWMI workshop/webinar was held in Bangkok on 12 December 2018, and focused on ‘Working at the science–policy interface: Approaches and insights’. It provided an opportunity to share experiences from Australia’s water reform process and from applying WaterGuide in countries other than Australia; to share lessons from IWMI’s experience of the science-policy interface in Africa and Asia; and to undertake joint learning on how to maximise effectiveness in science-based policy influencing.

The ADB workshop was held in Manila on 15 January 2019, and exposed senior investment planners and decision makers, and other ADB officers and Philippine Government officials – from the National Economic and Development Authority, the National Water Resources Board, and National Irrigation Administration – to elements of the Australian water reform story and associated policy developments.

The World Bank workshop was held in Washington D.C on 10 April. The workshop – ‘Water policy and planning in response to scarcity’ – was an initiative to support the World Bank Water Week and was attended by over 60 World Bank staff from the Water Global Practice. Aither presented on Australia’s three-decade water reform journey with the aim of developing a greater understanding of Australia’s reform experience amongst Bank staff, as well as providing an overview of WaterGuide and how to overcome barriers to change.

Australia’s WaterTools were also discussed alongside the WaterGuide workshops, describing how modelling and water data has been used to inform decision making by explaining what is happening at present, predicting what will happen in the future and predicting what will happen if we intervene.

These workshops provided an opportunity for Australia to demonstrate its leading thinking in integrated water resource management and water policy to a broad audience of decision-makers in multilateral development banks and water research institutes.

“While contexts differ and there is no fixed formula or recipe for strong water governance, there are common ingredients,” said Mr Will Fargher, Aither Director and lead water advisor.

The ADB, IWMI and the World Bank have all indicated a desire to continue working with Australian Partners, with initial feedback suggesting that Australia’s advice and experience is highly valued and is contributing to improvements in human capacity and staff knowledge.

“We had to work hard to bring the discussion to a close given the wide interest and animated discussions. We would welcome opportunities to take the discussion on managing scarcity forward for specific regions, countries and client engagements,” said Dr Bill Young, Lead Water Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank.

Opportunities arising from these workshops for further collaboration between Australia and international partners in the application of WaterGuide include an invitation to return to the World Bank to further discuss Australia’s experience in water policy reforms and applications of WaterGuide in developing country contexts; a prospective application of WaterGuide in Uzbekistan in partnership with the ADB incorporating contributions from IWMI experts; and a prospective application in Pakistan in partnership with IWMI under the existing Australia-Pakistan Memorandum of Understanding in the field of integrated water resources management.

Feature photo: A small stream of water runs through a drought damaged area near Lamtakong dam in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Credit: AP.
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