Remaining agile and responsive in a changing environment: How AWP is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Australia has recently suffered devastating bushfires, hail, storms and floods all in the span of a few months, but there appears to be no greater challenge than the COVID-19 pandemic, which has surpassed 2 million infected people worldwide and resulted in more than 140,000 confirmed deaths.

On 27 February, the Australian Government activated its emergency response plan for global pandemics in response to the fast spread of COVID-19. New information, social restrictions and infection/death rates are emerging on a daily basis, urging the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) to be adaptive and flexible in how it navigates all water for development activities with its Australian, International and In-country Partners for the foreseeable future.

With the support of, and guidance from, the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and its managing company eWater Ltd—AWP is continuing to operate at full capacity across all of its DFAT grants.

In order to ensure business continuity, AWP Management established a COVID-19 internal taskforce to respond to both everyday issues that require immediate attention as the situation changes, as well as to develop more strategic and long-term actions to ensure productivity for the whole year. The taskforce developed a COVID-19 response and 2020 work plan, which includes advice on communication and travel, business continuity, ongoing monitoring, and online resources.

One of the first actions was to ensure the safety of AWP’s staff and Partners engaged on AWP work. In January, AWP promptly upgraded travel risk assessments on development activities, which has resulted in all Australian-based Partners returning safely to Australia prior to border restrictions taking effect in late March (with some Partners completing the mandatory two-week self-quarantine on their return).

As of 25 March, AWP staff moved fully to work-from-home arrangements, observing the Australian Government’s advice on greater social distancing measures in the workplace. Fortunately, AWP is well positioned to operate smoothly online to manage its activity pipeline and knowledge sharing activities, with staff still contactable through the usual means.

“Our staff’s health and wellbeing have been of paramount importance so we put measures in place early to transition the team to fully work from home,” says AWP CEO Prof Nick Schofield. “We are all navigating this dynamic and unpredictable environment together, and I am confident that our 2020 work plan will ensure our staff remain fully employed and productive with a suite of IT platforms at our disposal

Many AWP supported events and missions have been impacted. All international events and delegations into Australia originally taking place before July this year have either been cancelled or indefinitely postponed by conference organisers. If still going ahead, the decision to participate in these events will be based on DFAT’s Smartraveller advice and AWP risk assessments closer to the time, noting that innovative approaches to event hosting may emerge in the coming weeks and months.

Going forward, AWP will be working with its Partners to adapt to the new world. As of 2 April, AWP has 66 activities running across all of its DFAT grants. An initial rapid assessment was undertaken to understand COVID-19 impacts on activity implementation and possible COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as innovative approaches to ensure business continuity where possible.

“An important first step has been to have discussions with our Partners on how to adapt activities in 2020 for the best outcomes,” says Rory Hunter, AWP Program Manager. “We’re thankful to those who have already taken the time to respond and complete the COVID-19 activity assessment templates.”

On innovative approaches, AWP plans to host activity-related webinars in collaboration with Partners to assist connectivity and knowledge sharing within the partnership. AWP is also seeking ideas on how the water sector and sustainable water management practices can more broadly assist with addressing COVID-19.

“Having organised ourselves in-house, we are now specifically looking to assist and work with DFAT, the Australian Government and our development Partners to prepare, respond and recover from COVID-19 over the coming months,” said Prof Schofield.

“We will be seeking advice from AWPAC, identifying opportunities within existing activities and talking to our Partners individually to design an effective response together. Further details on these developments will be provided as they are rolled out.”

For information on the current situation of COVID-19, visit https://www.health.gov.au


Feature image: COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) (accessed on 16 April 2020 at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map)

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