Australian High Commission
New Delhi
India, Bhutan

Deputy High Commissioner Rod Hilton's Address to CII Triveni Water Institute's 5th Water Innovation Summit 2019

                                                                     Special Address by Mr Rod Hilton, Deputy Australian High Commissioner to India
                                                                             Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) Triveni Water Institute 
                                                                                                          5th Water Innovation Summit 2019
                                                                                        Wednesday 18 September, the LaLIT, New Delhi


(Check against delivery)

Good morning everyone

It’s an honour and a privilege to be here with such an eminent group of experts and industry representatives today at the fifth Water Innovation Summit. I would like to thank the CII Triveni Water Institute for convening and hosting this important forum again, and also take the opportunity to acknowledge:

  • Mr Ramesh Datla, Chairman, CII National Committee on Water;
  • Mr Rajesh Sharma, Chairman and Managing Director, Ion Exchange India Limited
  • Dr Anil Kakodkar, Chief of Jury, CII National Awards for Excellence, and member of the Atomic Energy Commission;
  • Dr Rajindra Singh, Magsaysay Awardee; Stockholm Water Prize Laureate; 
  • Mr N K Ranganath, member of the Institute’s Advisory Board, member of the Jury, and Co-Chairman;
  • Mr S Ragupathy, Deputy Director General of CII; and
  • Dr Kapil Kumar Narula, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of CII.

I am delighted that the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is partner sponsor of the Summit. The AWP works with countries in our Indo-Pacific region work on sustainable management of water resources. It does this by facilitating collaboration between governments, international water agencies and its network of over 200 Australian public and private organisations and this event is another great example. I’d also like to welcome:

  • The Honourable Karlene Maywald, former South Australian Minister for Water and Chair of ICEWaRM;
  • Mr Darryl Day, Managing Director of ICEWaRM – congratulations Darryl on being awarded the Australian Water Association’s Water Professional of the Year for 2019; and
  • Other members of the Australian delegation, who will be introduced shortly.

(Background – water security)

The theme of this year’s Summit – transforming to a water smart and water secure India – is timely and appropriate. Water security is gaining increasing attention around the world as domestic, agricultural, energy and industrial demand increases, and as climate change is raising global temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. But securing reliable water supplies to meet these needs can no longer be seen as a challenge to be tackled sometime in the future.

The 2019 United Nations World Water Development Report notes that over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. Three in ten people don’t have access to safe drinking water. Yet, water use will increase by up to 30 per cent above current levels by 2050 mainly due to rising demand in the industrial and domestic sectors. Balancing demand will become more difficult as the effects of climate change intensify.

Globally, there is evidence that access to safe water and sanitation substantially improves public health and education outcomes and significantly reduces the burden placed on women to collect and transport water for their families and communities.

Achieving water security requires an integrated approach that considers the demand for water across sectors including agriculture, industry, energy and food. All elements of this “nexus” underpin several of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which all countries around the world have committed. Not considering the interdependencies of our critical resources risks losing some of the many gains that have been made in human development, with implications for economic well-being and security.

(Cooperation on Integrated Water Resources Management)

The recent creation of the Jal Shakti (Water Power) Ministry here in India  – which merged the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation with the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation – shows how seriously India is taking up the challenge of ensuring there is enough water available to meet competing and increasing demand.

Ensuring a sustainable water supply will be critical if the ambitious goal of providing piped and potable water to 100 per cent of households by 2024 is to be achieved. The initiative to bring the challenges of addressing water management, and water security for critical human needs, under a single Ministry is commendable. This will help to develop sustainable solutions, and I am pleased to note that there will be a number of senior Jal Shakti officials at tomorrow’s proceedings.

Managing our water resources requires ingenuity, innovation and a long-term perspective. It also requires taking an evidence-based approach and learning from experience. Australia has an international reputation as an innovative and efficient water manager. This is in part due to Australian governments prioritising investment in water management, water research, science-driven policy, innovative water markets, and forward planning to ensure sustainability of supplies.

India and Australia have a lot in common and much to learn from each other. We already enjoy significant technical cooperation on water resources management and were delighted to welcome two eminent Australian experts Dr Don Blackmore and Professor Rob Vertessy, together with a delegation from CSIRO, to India earlier this month to advise the Government of India on Integrated Water Resources Management at the invitation of Minister Shekhawat.

(Traditional knowledge in water management)

Importantly, India and Australia both recognise that water management is not just about technical solutions, but has to balance considerations around social wellbeing. Water is a part of culture and management practices are increasingly recognising this.

In Australia, for thousands of years, Aboriginal communities have had a continuing connection with water through creation stories, language, ecosystems, and knowledge about sharing and conserving water. Aboriginal people started living in our Murray-Darling river system at least 40,000 years ago, and their vision, knowledge and culture have made their way into water management processes in this critical region, and elsewhere in Australia.

In India, spiritual and cultural rituals associated with water also date back thousands of years, and immense knowledge has been built over time. Through Jal Shakti Abhiyan, the government of India will draw on traditional knowledge and water conservation practices to reduce water insecurity and safeguard future supplies across the country.

Bringing these conservation and management mechanisms into current planning processes reflects the fact that both our countries have long been highly vulnerable not only to water shortages, but also excesses. In India, we saw these effects again this year with severe shortages in Chennai, followed by many thousands of people, as well as wildlife populations, being severely affected by torrential rains and floods in Assam.

(Water reform in Australia)

Australia, too, is subject to droughts and floods. To cope with these we have undergone major sector reforms, including robust governance, strong compliance mechanisms, pricing, and balancing supply side solutions with demand side management. With these, we have been able to develop new and innovative management systems that have allowed us to adapt to the environment and build a diverse agricultural sector.

Despite being the driest continent on earth, Australia exports two thirds of our agricultural produce. However, we are cognisant that we need to continually review our processes to make sure our systems are working in the right way, and our resources are being well managed.  This is happening right now, as the east of the country is in the midst of a severe and prolonged drought.  

Water reform requires behavioural change, innovation, and new ways of collaborating – and learning together – within communities, across countries, and across our region. I commend CII for focusing this year’s Summit on leveraging knowledge and innovative, scaleable approaches to improve water management.

No one sector alone can solve the challenges faced and we need a deep understanding of scientific, economic, political, social and environmental issues. The awards presented tomorrow will showcase ways that these elements are being brought together to address water security challenges.

I look forward to seeing the successful candidates implement their ideas in practice, and hope that they may also provide yet another mechanism for cooperation between our countries.

(Water security and economic development)

The attention given to improving water use efficiency in industry during this event is welcome, as the sector has a key role to play in ensuring that there is enough water available to meet rising demand. NITI Aayog’s 2019 Composite Water Index issues a stark warning that water shortages can hamper industrial operations – which account for around 30 per cent of India’s GDP - and other economic activity, leading to diminished economic growth.

The same report notes that erratic and insufficient water supplies are already impacting production processes and efficiency. This is especially the case in the Small-to-Medium Enterprise and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise segments. These are the backbone of the Indian economy and, importantly, provide many women with an income.

Good water management is also about ensuring water quality. This is a problem that is growing in complexity as global prosperity expands. Research published by the World Bank recently suggests that income status does not confer immunity from water quality problems, and pollution levels do not decline with economic growth.

Rather, the range of pollutants tends to expand with prosperity and as new chemicals are released into the environment every day. Yet, the impacts of water quality cut across nearly all SDGs, with implications for health, agriculture, and the environment. The report suggests that, when these sectoral impacts are aggregated, they can account for significant slowdowns in economic growth.  

Addressing these increasingly complex challenges will require new partnerships and ways of working together. Enduring and inclusive solutions to sustainable water management and use require the full engagement of stakeholders across government, industry and civil society.

(South Australian delegation visit)

The visit by our South Australian delegation, which includes technical experts, industry representatives, government officials and researchers is a great example of bringing these elements together. The delegation, with the support of the Australian Water Partnership and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) has recently met with the Government of Maharashtra, the World Bank 2030 Water Resources Group, the Tata Water Mission and the Mahindra Group in Mumbai to discuss water sector opportunities and collaboration.

Centres of Excellence like the Rajasthan Centre of Excellence in Water Resource Management (RaCEWaRM), which ICEWaRM has helped the Government of Rajasthan to establish, are also becoming important models for bringing together government, research institutions and the private sector to provide an evidence base for water policy and practice, and for supporting cross-learning. I understand the delegation will visit RaCEWaRM later this week.

Extending the model of Centres of Excellence, the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority has recently established the Maharashtra Centre for Innovation, Progressive Regulation and Awareness in Water. Australia is providing support through the Government of South Australia and ICEWaRM. The Centre will provide two-way learning between India and Australia, including the evaluation and adoption of new technologies and innovative approaches to policy and practice. Congratulations to all on this great achievement.

(Wrap up)

Water management is not only a growth area in the bilateral relationship between our two countries, but collaboration between India and Australia going forward will be a critical element in fostering a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper highlights the rising demand for food, water and energy, and the potential implications if these are not managed collectively. Governments cannot do this alone, and partnerships are needed to provide opportunities and a broader platform to share experiences and knowledge for the benefit of both countries and our region.

I’d like to thank the organisers for the opportunity this Summit provides to facilitate knowledge sharing; bring different sectors together, showcase best practice; and recognise and reward those making a critical difference. I wish you all the best for a very successful event.

Thank you.