For Pacific Islanders, the saying ‘water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink’ is getting a little too close for comfort. The coral atoll islands depend on freshwater lens held in the sand beneath the island. Pollution and sea water intrusion caused by storm surges resulting from the increased intensity and frequency of cyclones are threatening these freshwater reserves.
In the larger volcanic islands of Melanesia, achieving the water SDG 6 requires additional effort to improve the delivery of water and sanitation to people in remote, often mountainous regions.
World Water Day on 22 March reminds us that water is essential for life. Water is vital to achieving food security, energy security, biodiversity and ecosystem health—as well as to meeting human needs from water supply and sanitation to recreation, spiritual and cultural needs. Water scarcity threatens community stability, can increase tension and possibly conflict, and lead to large scale migration. It is no wonder that ‘water’ has risen to be one of the top issues on the international security agenda.
Australia’s experience in managing water in the context of scarcity is widely recognised internationally and there is growing interest in accessing Australian expertise in policy, legislative, regulatory, institutional, economic and environmental approaches to water management.
The Foreign Policy White Paper committed Australia to “share our water management expertise to enhance agricultural productivity, improve health outcomes, strengthen economies and reduce poverty”. DFAT established the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) to respond to the water scarcity challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region by easy access to 180+ public and private sector partners ready to provide technical assistance and advice to improve water management.
In the Pacific, AWP is assisting 30 utilities in 21 Pacific nations through the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association (PWWA). PWWA supports the annual meeting of Pacific Water Ministers as well as building the capacity of its member agencies through training programs.
AWP has supported the professional development of 38 PWWA staff and 59 Young Water Professionals (50 per cent of whom are female) with all 30 water utility members benefitting from a strengthened Association representing their interests regionally.
Nick Schofield, AWP CEO, says: “We greatly value our partnership with PWWA. The highlight has been working with the next generation of water professionals and leaders, towards gender equality and social inclusion and long-term improvements in water and wastewater management in the context of climate change.”