Reflections on AWP Engagement at the IWA World Water Congress

An opinion piece by Katharine Cross

Having worked for the International Water Association for several years prior to joining AWP, attending the IWA World Water Congress in Copenhagen this September was a bit like coming home. It was an exciting and dynamic opportunity to reconnect with colleagues across the water sector on technical issues as well as share knowledge on challenges and solutions around ‘Water for Smart Liveable Cities’. I felt privileged as a water professional to actively contribute to sessions ranging from climate smart utilities to nature-based solutions to integrated urban water management.    

It was also an honour to be part of Team Australia (despite being a recent immigrant!) and to be graciously hosted by Her Excellency, Kerin Ayyalaraju, Australian Ambassador to Denmark, Norway, Iceland hosted at a  reception for Australian and international delegates attending the Congress. At the Congress itself, members from the Australian Water Association, Water Services of Association of Australia and IWA Australia had a strong presence led by Corinne Cheeseman (CEO AWA), Louise Dudley (President AWA), Adam Lovell (CEO WSAA), and Tom Mollenkopf (IWA President).  

Thanks to these efforts, more than 60 Australians attended the event, and were profiled across the Congress across technical sessions, workshops and forums. This includes the Utility Leaders Forum, the Water Regulators Forum and the IWA High Level Summit.  

The Congress’s High Level Summit was an opportunity to report on the water sector progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The summit added a political dimension that covered three topics – finance, governance, and partnerships. eWater Group CEO, Michael Wilson, gave an igniting pitch on how partnerships can promote innovation in development cooperation activities. Michael explained how partnership is not just about working together – partnership is about trust, mutual understanding and coming to cooperative relationships in a spirit of respect, humility and equality.  

Michael also highlighted how complex problems such as addressing climate change through water management which is sensitive to development standards around Gender equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) require not just technical solutions: they need people from different backgrounds to work together to come up with collaborative, innovative and adaptive approaches. This can mean approaches which include local, traditional, and gendered understandings of water resource management, land and soils, and even climate change adaptation. 

A highlight was the plenary keynote from Professor Dawn Martin-Hill, Chair in Indigenous Studies at McMasters University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on Empowering Communities to Shape Sustainable Water Solutions – Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge. She spoke about her experiences on Indigenous water knowledge coupled with scientific research. Following her keynote, there was a water ceremony where Indigenous representatives spoke about their Country, culture and importance of water. And then a panel chaired by Tom Mollenkopf (IWA President), which included Indigenous people from India, Greenland and Australia – Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge – as well as a non-Indigenous Australian, AWA’s President Louise Dudley. Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge spoke about how science has to evolve to consider traditional knowledge as evidence, as there are generations of experience from Indigenous Peoples.  

A key milestone for AWP was the launch of the Urban WaterGuide developed by Water Sensitive Cities Australia. Professor Tony Wong (Chair of Think Tank, Water Sensitive Cities Australia), Tom Mollenkopf (IWA President) and Michael Wilson headlined the launch at the IWA exhibition stand. The Urban WaterGuide joins the Guide Series from AWP to provide frameworks which can be used across countries building on the Australian water journey and experience.  This publication is timely as cities are facing increasing challenges and pressure for climate, population, increasing demand and land use change. The Urban WaterGuide outlines how these barriers are being addressed in Australia, and by Australians working on international projects through integrated urban water management (IUWM). IUWM is an approach that integrates water sources, water-use sectors, water services, and water management scales.  

Following the launch, a workshop was held featuring the Urban WaterGuide introducing the steps for IUWM and to encourage participants to discuss practical ‘integrating’ strategies that can complement their technical solutions to urban water security challenges. Katharine Cross, Strategy and Partnerships Lead set the scene for the roundtables with a case study on flooding following an overview from Prof Tony Wong on IUWM and the Urban WaterGuide. Michael Wilson facilitated a panel including Louise Dudley, Tony Wong and Suresh Kumar Rohilla (Program Lead, IWA) who responded to questions and statements from the dynamic roundtable discussions. Questions ranged from how different views can be reconciled, to how to prioritise challenges to how to create willingness to on applying innovative approaches.  

A key message was that the 5 step process outlined in the Urban WaterGuide encourages dialogue and active listening and with time can come to a solution; the process not only adds value and enable engagement of different stakeholders but the steps are transferable between contexts. Facilitation to ensure inclusion is important, so there needs to be an effort into the design of how engagement will occur including with marginalised populations. At the same time, there needs to be a strong scientific and technical argument for a proposed infrastructure solution (which could including nature-based solutions) to flooding. Finally, demonstrations of technologies such nature-based solutions as part of flood management infrastructure can go a long way to changing mindsets and increasing understanding. Bringing in different stakeholders especially politicians to see demonstrations can set the foundation for political will. 

Blog by AWP Strategy and Partnerships Lead, Katharine Cross. Images from the IWA World Water Congress – Project Innovation Award Winners; Reception hosted by the Australian Embassy; workshop on the Urban WaterGuide (Source: Katharine Cross).
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