Australian water industry expertise in high demand across Asia

Posted 19 May 2017

Australian water industry expertise in high demand across AsiaAustralia has a robust water industry, which means it’s primed to take the lead across the Asia Pacific Region for development and innovation. How can our domestic water industry answer this global call to action?

There is a lot of awareness among the water industry about UN SDG 6, which is clean water and sanitation for all. Part of achieving this goal requires building up the capabilities of domestic water organisations in developing countries, something that the dedicated Ozwater’17 International Stream, sponsored by our Principal Banking Sponsor ANZ, addressed.

During her session, Melita Grant from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS said that private enterprises are playing an increasing role in rural water supply in many of Vietnam’s provinces. 

Access to water is exacerbated by wealth inequalities throughout the country – only 6% of people in the country’s poorest areas had access to piped water.

For three years, she and a team of local experts conducted applied research into piped water access in eight of Vietnam’s provinces. It became clear early on that limitations from state budgets have flow-on effects for the poorest people in rural areas. Private piped water enterprises are helping to fill some of these gaps, but there are still governance issues that prevent some from accessing this resource. 

Interviews with residents revealed that the main reason for why a household wasn’t connected to piped water was that the connection fees were too high – about AU$90. Other barriers were unaffordable tariffs and distance from the piped water source, which is a common issue in farming villages.

Grant said that improved transparency about pricing, policy reviews to increase regulation and oversight of enterprises, and greater awareness about grants and financial assistance would all go a long way to improving water access for the country’s poorest residents. 

She said another area for improvement is training and support in delivering services, especially in terms of capital. 

“We found that some operators stopped extending piped water schemes because they couldn’t get the necessary finance to build additional infrastructure,” she said. 

For Australian organisation that want to assist, she said the best way to make progress in this area is through partnerships with Vietnamese organisations and government bodies. 

“Partnerships with local groups are the best way to establish connections to decision-makers,” she said.

This holds true for another Asian country with a rising profile. China’s water industry is more advanced than that of Vietnam, but Huanfei Jia from Topure Group said that if Australian water companies want to take advantage of opportunities in the country, they need to understand the market. 

“A proven success strategy is forming a long-term partnership to deliver a technology solution, capital investment or both, or cooperating with bridging Australian firms” he said. 

For interested parties, one area ripe for collaboration and Australian participation is sludge treatment, which Jia said “has been left behind”.

The primary method of sludge disposal to this point has been landfill, but the Chinese Government has set a goal of improving resource recovery and decreasing emissions from wastewater treatment to address the country’s pollution issues. 

“Water companies in the country are looking for more green solutions and regenerative solutions,” he said.

Jia said this presents opportunities for Australian companies to share sludge treatment technology and knowledge, as there is high demand from the Chinese water industry for this expertise. 

The Australian Water Association's international program provides opportunities for the sharing of Australian water expertise and technologies across the Asia Pacific Region. Find out more here.