What Happened at the March Technical Meeting - how can we achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Posted 17 April 2018
Compiled by Richard Savage, Technical Director, GHD

The Australian Water Association Queensland Branch technical seminar held on 14 March 2018, brought some refreshing changes, one being the very generous hosting of the event by Jacobs at their Southbank Offices and the other being the focus on issues related to the whole water cycle, in particular, how we can achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for water and beyond. We were very honoured to have two outstanding speakers and subject matter experts in Dr Eva Abal from the International River Foundation and John Poon from Jacobs to address the delegates. It was also great to see some new faces in the audience and we hope that a broader spectrum of subject matter for future seminars will continue to interest our members. 

Eva spoke on how we can achieve the UN SDGs, recognising the gaps in geographic, resource availability and economic factors that limit the adoption of the UN’s SDG’s. John Poon presented the remarkable case study of Singapore to demonstrate what is possible if we set our minds on achieving sustainable water and environmental management, and how Singapore transformed its water supply and sanitation status quo from a 3rd World to a 1st World scenario. 

Towards water and food security through energy efficiency: Addressing the adaptation gap to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals – Dr Eva Abal 
“Global population growth and urbanisation are dramatically increasing the demand for clean and reliable supplies of freshwater, land, energy and food with a corresponding significant increase in emissions and waste streams.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a good basis to consider the interdependencies of the water, energy and food sectors in achieving the different goals, which vary from one country to another. Strategic planning is required to ensure long-term sustainability and efficiency of energy, water and land resources to respond to future shocks. To create a paradigm shift towards ‘nexus thinking’, there is a need to create collaboration within government departments and industries responsible for energy, water and land resource management, as well as integrated monitoring of resources to identify available efficiencies and co-benefits.” 

If we are all honest with ourselves, Eva’s powerful address challenged us to not only be interested, but to make a difference in educating our government, corporations and  communities about the precarious state of global water resources and the inextricable link water has to energy and food production, and ultimately, safe and healthy communities. 

She provided some context for us in Australia on access to improved water supply and sanitation, pointing out that mortality rates arising from waterborne diseases are between 10 – 30 times higher across Indonesia, the Philippines, PNG and the Solomon Islands than in Australia. It was sobering to be reminded of basic human rights and the significant impact that investment in WASH initiatives has in improving the quality of life for marginalised communities. 

So, what to do? 

Eva discussed the action targets for Sustainability Goal 6 – Ensure access to water and sanitation for all and these are summarised below: 
  • By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all 
  • By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of females and those in vulnerable situations  
  • By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally 
  • By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity 
  • By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels 
  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related eco-systems 
  • By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation related programmes
  • Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management 

If ever we faced a daunting task, this is it, and simple reflection of these targets means there is much to do, even for us in the privileged situation we’re in in urban Australia. 

Having provided this context, Eva’s presentation then addressed the “Adaptation Gap” – why we are where we are and how to progress towards achieving the targets of SDG 6. 

Key points from her presentation were the following: 
  • Understanding the trade-offs in the water / energy / food security nexus: with increasing levels of urbanisation, population and food and water demands, land and water resources are increasingly stressed and require high levels of management 
  • Government departments dealing with land, water and energy matters need to be aligned in their purpose and objectives; silos need to be replaced by collaborative frameworks 
  • A paradigm shift is required from ‘CONCEPTUALISM to OPERATIONALISM’. This is the DOING bit, incorporating integrated planning and operations, transparent monitoring and evaluation, the identification of equitable financial mechanisms, trans-discipline and multi-sectoral collaboration and innovation 
  • We need an Adaptive Management Cycle which facilitates monitoring and evaluation, leading to continuous improvement in planning and policy formulation 
  • The water industry as a collective needs to intensify its involvement in policy-making and endeavour to de-politicise water considerations; the Australian industry (public and private sectors) can increase its support of initiatives lead by DFAT, WaterAid, etc. 
  • The UN is producing the SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 as its annual SDG review theme, to provide an overview of the status quo of SDG 6 implementation at both a global and regional level. This provides input to Member States of the UN for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2018. There is an opportunity to contribute to the Australian task force and review process. 
  • Task force report will be finalised in June 2018 and is considering the following issues: 
    o Universality – everyone’s problem, pollution, resilience, management systems and capacity 
    o Institutional and Governance – is information accessible? 
    o Financing of initiatives – is it sustainable, value propositions, scalability, how to deal with rising costs 
    o Data monitoring – quantity and quality of data
  • Initiatives for Australian corporations / institutions (public and private):
    o Initiate internal water and wastewater audits – look at supply chains and customer consequences
    o Look at OPERATIONALISING SDG’s – mapping SDG principles against company objectives, benchmarking against peers, identify key focus areas through a gap analysis, understand externalities, develop partnerships (e.g. look at twinning arrangements in developing countries) 

From Hopeless to Closed Loop – Singapore’s Journey from 3rd World to 1st World Water and Sanitation – John Poon 
“This will be an outline of the amazing journey Singapore is currently taking to gain water independence and build a safer and more secure future for its people. Over the past 20 years, Singapore has transformed its water infrastructure into one of the very few large-scale closed loop urban water cycle systems. What has been achieved so far is amazing but what is planned and now being built is even more incredible.” 

John’s address presenting the Singapore case study was an excellent back-up to Eva’s challenge on our approach to securing a sustainable future in respect of water supply and sanitation. Many of the building blocks outlined by Eva as imperative for progress have been implemented in Singapore, primarily recognition by Government that they had a problem, and then defining a collaborative framework for all stakeholders to achieve a sustainable basis for the improvement of quality of life and business security into the future. 

The Four National Taps approach was innovative and purposeful, identifying the precious sources of water critical to the city’s future: 
Imported water from Malaysia. 
NEWater (recycled water); 
Water desalination; and. 
Local catchments (i.e. stormwater runoff) and reservoirs 

Singapore also adopted their 3P Approach (process, product and people) as follows: 
“Conserve Water” 
“Value Our Water” 
“Enjoy Our Water” 

The facts and figures were fascinating, including supporting a population of approx. 4.5million people, 900ML/d Changi water treatment plant, 800ML/d proposed new water reclamation plant (MBR, with full energy recovery, nutrient removal and carbon abatement), 14 reservoirs, 7,000km of waterways and drains, etc.

John highlighted some key achievements since inception, primarily the integrated approach to creating a liveable city combining open, green space, with water management facilities and infrastructure. Central to their approach is the involvement of people (communities) in the strategy – be they commerce, industry or residential. Everyone is aware of the role that they and the environment play in securing all the components of the ‘Four Taps’. This approach is inherent in their ABC Waters Programme: 
Active – developing a sense of community ownership of waters, creating open space for recreation 
Beautiful – integrating infrastructure and facilities with green space and aesthetic landscaping 
Clean – the objective being improved water quality, public education 

John noted that the achievements in Singapore have been recognised at the highest level through the Stockholm Water Industry Award in 2015. However, the lesson and motivation for us all is far more than that – if we cast aside personal and political agendas, and leverage off the successes of others, there is no water security and sustainability problem we can’t solve. Clear and open communication with the public is a critical factor and when addressing water and sanitation issues, the WHOLE water cycle needs to be addressed. 


Dr Eva Abal, International River Foundation 
Dr Abal joined the International River Foundation after years of experience with the University of Queensland, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, SEQ Healthy Waterways Partnership (now Healthy Land and Water) and more recently as Strategic Projects and Partnerships Adviser of the International WaterCentre. In these roles, Eva has demonstrated skills in leading and managing large-scale trans-disciplinary programs. Eva’s passion and commitment in integrated water resources management in the Asia Pacific region is evidenced in her being one of the authors of the Asian Development Outlook 2011 and 2016, which chart progress towards water security in the region. 

John Poon, Jacobs 
John is a civil engineer and has some 28 years of experience in water infrastructure development. From 2000 to 2003, he was the Study Manager for the Singapore Government’s well-known and highly successful NEWater program. He also led the team responsible for completing the world-class and multi-awarded NEWater Visitor Centre. His contributions to potable reuse helped CH2M (now Jacobs) win the prestigious 2015 Stockholm Industry Water Award. 


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