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Challenges and opportunities for the water sector

“The sector needs leaders with the right critical thinking skills, contemporary knowledge and understanding of its complexities and linkages across our cities and catchments.’’

Mark says one of the biggest obstacles to making positive change in the water sector is that it falls within the public goods space and is almost entirely publicly funded.


That means it’s not as ‘sexy’ as some other career paths, which in turn creates challenges around attracting and keeping good people. This is where institutions such as the IWC can play a key role.

“We will shortly commence this year’s Masters in Integrated Water Management, which we’ve been running now for 10 years,’’ says Mark. “It typically has enrolments from 10 to 15 different countries, and we now have 600 or 700 alumni in over 85 countries.

“It’s very satisfying to interact with these people have from all different parts of the world. Some of their challenges are the same and some are unique, so the group learns from each other as well as learning from us.’’

However, leadership is not the sector’s only significant barrier to progress.

Mark with the Afghan Ambassador to Australia

“In terms of funding, it’s important we find ways to create alternative sources of funds other than national treasuries,’’ says Mark.

“And I think there are also major challenges around the technological inertia of the industry. It tends to be pretty slow-moving, and it’s ripe for disruption, We build things to last 100 years, which has made us too risk-averse and conservative.’’

If the water sector’s successes can be measured in terms of progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, then its report card is mixed.

“I think we’re more or less on track in the water space,’’ says Mark. “I’m pretty sure we’re not on track in terms of sanitation.

“And there is still much room for further progress towards the other sub-goals of SDG6, such as integrated water management, ecological considerations and partnerships.

“I haven’t seen recent data for 2019 yet, but we’re doing some work with the Asian Development Bank and it’s clear than in the 49 countries of ADB’s region we’ve got some monstrous challenges still ahead of us to make the SDGs.

“Part of the problem is finance – the investment requirements are huge. And another key issue is changing behaviour. Communities need a higher level of understanding of what is possible so they can demand more from their governments.

“There’s every reason to be optimistic for 2020, but still plenty of work to be done.’’

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