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World Water Day

On this World Water Day 22 March, we recognise the value of safe and secure water supplies in enabling sustainable health and environmental outcomes for all. We are proud to showcase the efforts of seven Australian utilities and local governments currently supporting improved water and wastewater services for millions of customers across Southeast Asia and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their involvement in the Water Utility Improvement Programs across Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam over the last two years has led to improved performance of water and wastewater service providers from these countries and their 15 million customers.

These two-way knowledge sharing programs are supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Water Partnership and 3i: investing in infrastructure program.

The partnerships include:

  • Yarra Valley Water and PDAM Tirta Sanjiwani (Gianyar)
  • Unitywater and PDAM Surabaya
  • South Gippsland Water and PD PAL Jaya
  • Riverina Water with An Giang Water Utility
  • Singleton Council with Nghe An Water Utility
  • Whitsunday Water with Viet Ha Water Utility
  • South East Water and
    • BekChan Water Supply Station
    • Kompongchomlong Water Supply
    • Krouch Chmar Water Supply

The knowledge shared between program participants has allowed for the following outcomes to be achieved:

  • Improved quality of water supply and wastewater management service delivery
  • Improved utility operational efficiency
    • NRW reduction
    • Installation of SCADA systems
    • Asset protection systems in place
  • Improved financial management
    • Implementation of Asset Management system
  • Organisational policies and strategies are inclusive of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion
  • Improved capacity of partner associations in Indonesia (PERPAMSI), Vietnam (VWSA) and Cambodia (CWA) to deliver professional development services to their members
  • Sustained operations and performance of utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic

The contributions are far reaching with the knowledge sharing contributing to multiple SDGs. These include:

  • SDG 6 through enabling improvements to water quality, water reliability, water efficiency and water security
  • SDG17 through enduring and enriching relationships to enable integration of knowledge
  • SDG 5 and 10 through working towards equality of opportunity for all water utility customers and community with a specific focus on gender
  • SDG 9 through enabling improvements to the environment and health of rivers

During 2020, all knowledge sharing activities were digitised in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions. In addition to the technical knowledge sharing, The AWA together with the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association (VWSA), Cambodian Water Supply Association (CWA) and Indonesian Water Supply Association (PERPAMSI) facilitated a program that connects their countries’ water utilities to share experiences and resources in responding to COVID-19.  The combined activities have supported the development and delivery of AWP’s broader Telewater program by coordinating Australia’s experiences and knowledge products so they can be accessible by water utilities across the Indo-Pacific.

The activities undertaken during this program have highlighted the essential role that water and sanitation services provide to frontline efforts in strengthening health systems and economic recovery across the Indo-Pacific region and the role that digital platforms can play in enhancing knowledge-sharing between our water sectors. This activity has pivoted to support the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recover Strategy through:

  • Establishing effective partnerships between water operators in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia;
  • Sharing and adopting new approaches and tools to support water utilities respond to and recover from the pandemic; and
  • Providing a flexible and responsive approach to in-country knowledge-sharing and capacity building needs that supports each countries stage of recovery

Lessons learnt

During National Water Week last year, Australian participants reflected on their experiences gained from the program. Peter Outtrim, Operations Superintendent at Riverina Water shared the personal benefits of participating in the program and that “contributing in a small way to the achievement of the sustainable development goals has provided a feel good factor for Riverina Water staff”

Former Unitywater program participant Sandrika Ryan mentioned that “as Australian water professionals we have this unique opportunity to make a small mark, to mentor one group of water professionals across the Asia pacific which leads to flow on benefits for other water businesses across the region.”

“A lot of what we have been doing is building their (Tirta Sanjiwani) own confidence in their own ability, the number of times we have validated their ideas and approaches is considerable, their success is down to them and we have just given them a nudge in the right direction” said Luke Dickson, former Yarra Valley Water program participant.

Josh Quinn, Water Quality Scientist at South East Water shared “being able to work within the Cambodian landscape, where the solutions to water quality and water supply problems are not obvious and not easily transferrable from the Victorian sector, has been an amazing learning opportunity for myself as a young water professional”.

At the same time an Indonesian water operator observed during the COVID-19 digital activities “There is wisdom behind the disaster, in the midst of a pandemic, socialization and communication and information sharing have become increasingly massive; Indonesian water utility (PDAM) friends are getting more enthusiastic and get a common level in gaining knowledge, especially sharing innovations to continue serving in the midst of a pandemic.”

The Australian Water Association is now working with all partnerships to continue digital knowledge sharing until the end of the year when it is hoped that international travel may resume. Many Australian utilities are also contributing to the transfer of surveillance methods to detect coronavirus in water and wastewater environments in Mekong countries, facilitated by the Australian Water Association, Water Research Australia and Water Futures, using methods developed through Australia’s ColoSSos — Collaboration of Sewage Surveillance for SARA-CoV-2 — Project.

Australian partners in the ColoSSoS program will be sharing some of their lessons learned at the upcoming Ozwater’21 program and over the coming months we will be connecting leading practitioners from Australian universities, utilities, health agencies and laboratories with their counterparts to support early warning detection of outbreaks, timely control measures and a more rapid return to normality across the Mekong subregion.

To learn more about the Australian Water Association’s international programs, click here.