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New consortium to enhance Australia-India cooperation on water

A consortium of universities and research institutions in Australia and India have launched the Australia-India Water Centre to foster research, education, training, and capacity building on all aspects of water in both countries.

Led by Western Sydney University and the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, the consortium includes nine Australian and 15 Indian research institutions to address critical water security and sanitation challenges.

The partners will collaborate in water research, a joint Master’s level program in water futures, training of PhD students, student and staff exchanges, workshops and conferences and provide short-term training in the water sector to government agencies and other participants.

The University of Western Australia Institute of Agriculture Director Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique said the relationship between Australia and India has matured to the point where collaboration in water-related research and development is full of opportunities.

“If you look at Australia’s scientific research outputs, we contribute about 2-3% of indexed, peer-reviewed papers published. In other words, we punch above our weight in terms of per capita research output,” he said.

Water and food security have been identified as important areas for collaboration in education, research, capacity development, technology and innovation, and both countries can great assist and inform each other by working together

“However, for global challenges such as climate change, food security, environmental issues and energy matters we have to work closely with other international players. Australia cannot achieve everything on its own.

“India is one of the superpowers in the Asian region, in terms of current and future growth opportunities. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Australia a few years ago and there has been ongoing dialogue between Australia and India in relation to climate change, water and food security.

“There is increasing concern over water security, the capacity of both countries to guarantee the availability of suitable quality water to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial and environmental needs.”

Similar challenges

Professor Siddique said the partnership between Australia and India is complementary, with both countries facing common challenges in relation to water security and sustainability, as well as policy and technological innovation.

“Water is very critical for Australia, we have done very well but our climate is changing rapidly. We have drought, floods and bushfires to contend with. And so does India,” he said.

“Both countries consider water challenges as very important. This includes water for the megacities in India, but also for Australian cities, where we now have desalination plants and water recycling programs.”

The proposed joint centre fits in nicely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — especially Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation and Climate Action.

The consortium will help to facilitate knowledge sharing between the two countries, with Australia’s expertise in water management one of the key areas of insight, as well as India’s approach to engineering projects and initiatives.

“India has some big challenges. Sanitation, water safety, recycling water, for all of these issues, India is behind when compared with Australia and other countries,” Professor Siddique said.

“Australia does water policy, reform and governance quite well. In the Murray-Darling Basin  we have frameworks and approaches to improving water management, which India does not have.

“A number of Indian rivers are highly polluted and there are various environmental and public health issues. 

“Australia can also learn from India regarding larger river systems, strategies in relation to climate change, government policies, but also insights from industry, including community based approaches and engineering solutions.”

A "one-stop-shop"

Professor Siddique said some of the main research focuses will be on the management of floods and droughts, river system health and management, climate change, urbanisation and land use, and competition for water between agriculture, urban areas and environment.

“The consortium is not necessarily going to focus solely on new technology and single solution. Curation of available knowledge for practical use will be one of our primary focuses,” he said.

"We will be promoting a trans-disciplinary approach that focuses on people, problems and solutions, rather than on disciplines. The consortium will also be aiming to provide a one-stop-shop for water management tools, models and knowledge products.”

Furthermore, Professor Siddique said training will be one of the key focuses of the consortium, which will facilitate master classes, workshops and research.

“One of the most important aspects of the knowledge sharing initiative that the consortium will focus on is training. Endorsing Masters degree programs will be an important aspect of this,” he said.

“Continuing education and training is important because technologies are changing fast.”

The official opening of the Australia-India Water Centre was commemorated during a virtual ceremony on 6 November 2020, with Australian and Indian representatives for governments and participating universities signed a Memorandum of Understanding.