Today is World Water Day, and there are forums being held right across the planet. Yes, there's a lot to celebrate: between 1990 and 2015, improved drinking water source coverage increased from 76 per cent of the population to 91 per cent. With population growth, this equates to over 2.5 billion people gaining access to good quality drinking water within 25 years.
But we need to accelerate. Rivers and aquifers are over-utilised in dozens of countries. 75 per cent of all irrigated farms are experiencing water shortages on a recurring basis. Pollution of waterways is threatening ecosystems and economies. And access to sanitation is still out of reach for many; nearly 1 billion people practice open defecation.
It's time for scalable solutions. Solutions that can be rolled out across not just one or two communities, but change the way water is used and valued at the scale of entire basins and industries. Aither has been working with the Australian Water Partnership and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to plot a pathway toward solutions like these.
WaterGuide is an organising framework for improving water management and use under conditions of scarcity. It can be used by decision makers to diagnose strengths, weaknesses and gaps in current water planning, allocation and use arrangements, and design a roadmap for improved water policy and management driven by short-, medium- and long-term priorities. As I say in an interview on Kini, Aither and the Australian Government are seeking delivery partners and willing governments to roll out pilots of WaterGuide outside Australia, so get in touch.
We need a clear vision for the future of sustainable water management in diverse jurisdictions and basins. As we say in a recent Aither thinkpiece, 'improving water management outcomes requires better decisions about investment in, allocation and use of available water resources'. We're excited about the role for Aither in improving water decision making in Australia and beyond our borders, but this is a challenge for Australia to take up as a nation. In our submission to the forthcoming Foreign Policy White Paper, we write, 'Water has long been a feature shaping Australia’s foreign policy and the opportunity to be a leader of improved water resource management has never been more apparent’.
It's exactly a year until a new UN International Decade for Action, themed 'Water for Sustainable Development', commences on World Water Day 2018. The concept of 'valuing water', and the kind of action-oriented roadmapping promoted by WaterGuide, should drive progress toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals over the course of this decade.
Topics covered in this interview: - Lasting, meaningful connections and knowledge sharing between Chinese and Australians - Aither’s Valuing Water Framework, and how countries might be able to engage with this tool - Huw’s impressions on how to strategically prioritise national water management issues, with key stakeholders, in order to make progress in water management - The critical importance of the water-food-energy nexus - The growing concern of degrading surface water quality, and solutions that are emerging to monitor and improve water quality