High Commissioner's Address at
Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) Triveni Water Institute
3rd Water Innovation Summit 2017
NATIONAL WATER AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN WATER MANAGEMENT
I’m absolutely delighted to be here today to address the 2017 Water Innovation Summit. I would like to thank the CII Triveni Water Institute for convening and hosting this forum, and take the opportunity to acknowledge:
- Dr Kapil Narula, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director;
- Mr N K Ranganath, member of the Institute’s Advisory Board and member of the Jury;
- Dr Anil Kakodkar, member of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Chief of Jury; and
- Mr Ramesh Datla, Chairman of the CII National Committee on Water.
It is also my pleasure to acknowledge the support of the South Australian Government as partner sponsor of the Summit, and the presence of The Honourable Karlene Maywald, former Minister for Water and current Adviser on Water for the South Australian Government; and other members of the South Australian delegation. Welcome.
This forum is convening on two issues close to my heart: water – and how to ensure sustainable, and safe, supplies for future generations – and innovation. The first is one of our greatest challenges, and paramount to our survival. The second offers the path to identifying a solution.
Water security – the challenge
I have attended several forums on water management lately. It seems there is a growing urgency in the region – and indeed internationally – to secure reliable water supplies for the future. This has been driven by a number of factors – climate change and urbanisation are chief amongst them – but in many cases, demand has already outstripped supply and we have reached a critical juncture in time. We must commit now to managing our water resources more effectively, so that future generations may live and prosper.
Water sustains life and human development. It powers economies. It also has great cultural significance for different peoples all over the world, be they coast, desert or mountain dwellers. The life-giving, life-affirming qualities of water are celebrated universally in human culture. It is certainly the case in Australia, which is the driest inhabited continent on earth. For our indigenous peoples, water has held vast social, cultural and economic importance for tens of thousands of years. One of Australia’s best-loved poems describes the relief brought by the ‘steady, soaking rains’ to drought-stricken communities. Indians are no strangers to what that feels like.
In India, rivers are worshipped as spiritual beings and the monsoon rains are associated with romance and drama. As a fan of Bollywood, I have watched many a film where the hero and heroine dance or embrace in the pouring rain! But, while seasonal rains have captured the imaginations of generations of Indian and Australian artists, the fact is that both our countries are highly vulnerable to water shortages as well as excesses. The indications are that, in the long term, water scarcity will be our greatest challenge. Of course, this is hard to reconcile with last week’s television images of Mumbaikers suffering through floods caused by heavy monsoon rains.
South Asia is a comparatively dry region, with around eight per cent of global water resources to sustain more than 21 per cent of the world’s population. If you think about the maths of that, you get an idea of the size of the challenge. India’s water resources are under great pressure to support a very large, and rapidly growing, population – many of whom live in increasingly big cities that were not designed to support such large populations. The availability of water is also intrinsically linked to the supply of energy, which fuels urban centres and economic growth. Overcoming the challenges of managing water resources effectively will require cutting-edge technology, knowledge and inventive approaches; it will also require a deep understanding of the scientific, economic, political, social and environmental issues.
Innovation – the approach
Now that I’ve laid out the challenge, let me turn to innovation. It’s a word that is used a lot these days, but in this case, I believe the scale and gravity of the problem demands particular creativity, resourcefulness and ambition.
Australians have achieved an international reputation as innovative and efficient water managers, but we are constantly looking for ways to improve our own systems. India has the potential to be an important partner in this area. Information technology – particularly open data – is the next frontier in developing innovative solutions to water challenges. As the IT centre of the world, India is uniquely placed to develop innovative technical systems that can “leapfrog” approaches that took years to develop in Australia and other countries. The National Awards for Excellence that will be presented at this Summit tomorrow will showcase some of the exciting and promising solutions that are being developed in India.
But I must make this point: technology on its own won’t solve the problem. For new technologies to be effective, the right administrative and legislative frameworks must be in place. This includes things like developing the right policy settings and institutional architecture to create enabling environment where that technology can be most effective. Australia has experience to share in this regard: over the last two decades, our Government has invested heavily in a program of significant policy reforms relating to water management. Our South Australian colleagues are well-placed to describe this, but we have blended scientific understanding and the right policy settings with building the necessary institutions and fostering a system that links science with policy. For example, the development of technical solutions by industry – which are then implemented by government for the benefit of communities – are enabled by a robust system that allows for free exchange of information on all sides and for new approaches to be trialled and improved.
The intrinsic relationship between technical expertise and public policy will be illustrated at this forum tomorrow, by the presence of the most senior representatives from the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and the NITI Aayog. Their attendance also reflects the high priority the Indian Government assigns to water management issues. And we warmly welcome that.
Innovation also means partnerships, and new ways of partnering. Enduring, sustainable and inclusive solutions require the full engagement of partners across government, industry and community. Cross-sectoral collaboration can also build the political will necessary to effect meaningful change. This is especially important for water resources management, given water underpins livelihoods and productivity in a number of sectors, such as: agriculture; energy; mining; urban planning; and health and sanitation. I note that the Triveni Water Institute brings together representatives from government, industry and civil society by design, and I commend them for that.
I am always struck by the ingenuity, resilience and resourcefulness of Indians, and I believe Australians share these qualities. Perhaps it has something to do with surviving in harsh climates! But it also means we are natural collaborators when it comes to complex problems of mutual concern. In fact, Australia and India already enjoy a high level of technical cooperation on water resources management. Our government-to-government engagement occurs under the auspices of a Memorandum of Understanding between our Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and India’s Ministry of Water Resources; and a number of Australian companies are already active in India’s water market.
So I see water as a growth area in the bilateral relationship, and I am very pleased that the relationship between CII-Triveni Water Institute and its Australian counterpart, the Water Industry Alliance, is growing. In fact, I believe that an MOU may be afoot between these two organisations! I feel sure this partnership will provide more opportunities, and a broader platform, for government and industry to share their experiences and knowledge for the benefit of both countries.
Platforms such as this forum, as well as reciprocal visits between India and Australia by industry and government representatives, are essential to building and applying the knowledge to safeguard water resources for present and future generations.
I would like to thank the organisers for the opportunity this Summit provides to: facilitate knowledge-sharing and education; showcase best practice; but, most importantly, to recognise and reward those making a difference. I wish you all the best for today and heartily congratulate and encourage those amongst you who are working on innovative solutions for the benefit of the community – both regional and global.