Water Lessons: defending ecosystems and resurrecting community rights

Tuesday 1 August 2006 - 5.30pm Adelaide Town Hall

Presented by

World Vision Australia and AusAID

and supported by
The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA

A series of bi-monthly forums, for dialogue, discussion and questions, on key international development issues involving and affecting the Australian community: July 2005 - October 2006


Chair: Ms Judith Barr

Water lessons: unedited audio transcript available here (22Mb mp3 audio file)

We know water is precious in Australia but access to safe drinking water is also a basic human right, enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

As water is becoming a commodity, shortages impact upon the lives of the poor in many countries and may even affect political stability. How do we ensure communities have access to fresh drinking water? How are communities dealing with the corporatisation of their water supplies? Could lack of water lead to future conflict in some regions and how can this be prevented? What role is Australia playing in helping to open up options for sustainable water supplies for people in developing countries? What impact does the way we live have on people in developing nations and their access to water and other basic human rights?

Speakers will address these issues and participate in an open session with the audience on lessons learned and the local/global actions needed.

Biographies and Summaries

Peter DwanMr Peter Dwan, International Program Manager, WaterAid Australia

Visual presentation delivered by Peter Dwan * (1.1Mb)
Peter is a geologist by original training but also holds a Masters Degree in International Development. He has 20 years international development experience, including 4 years overseas in Water and Sanitation programs in Africa and Asia.

WaterAid was originally started in UK in 1981 and is the leading NGO in the Watsan sector with 25 years experience in 17 countries in Africa and Asia.  WaterAid Australia was established in 2003 and is the Australian water industry’s overseas development agency. WaterAid Australia is currently supporting projects in Nepal, India, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Timor-Leste and PNG.

Summary: Water is precious in a dry continent like Australia, and the UN has identified it as a basic human right that should be available to all.  However the reality is that 1/6th of the world’s population does not have access to safe water and more than 1/3rd don’t have adequate sanitation facilities.  This results in an estimated 1.8 million deaths from water related diseases very year. As a rich developed country, Australia should share its resources, both material and human, in addressing this injustice. What is Australia doing now, and what should we be doing in the future, to make these basic human “water” rights real?

Jennifer McKayProfessor Jennifer McKay, Director, Centre for Comparative Water Policies and Laws and professor of Business Law at UniSA

Visual presentation delivered by Jennifer McKay * (4.5Mb)
Professor McKay is a lawyer who has a PhD in Geography (Melbourne) and specialises in Water resources and natural resources management and governance regimes. She is Professor of Business Law at the University of South Australia with her research being conducted in Australia, India, Indonesia, China PRC, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle east.  She is the foundation Director of the Water Policy and Law research centre which currently has 12 fulltime members and many international associates. She is often invited to international conferences and meetings of international bodies and hence travels widely often to remote areas to look at particular water management problems and to talk to the local officials and farmers.

Professor McKay has received many awards for her written work and has photographs as a feature of her presentations. As a result of these presentations her photos have been often been requested by Journals and newspapers and used in their publications.

Summary: Professor McKay will be discussing Environmentally Sustainable Development issues pertaining to water resource management in the context of Policy and Legislation, and the role that Corporate Governance structures play in influencing ESD outcomes.  She will be using existing practices, situations and initiatives in India and Australia to illustrate the presentation.

Jonathan CornfordJonathan Cornford, Oxfam Australia, Advocacy Coordinator (Natural Resource Management)
Jonathan completed a doctorate in Political Economy/International Development at James Cook University in 1998. His thesis examined the impact of Australian aid and development in Laos. Over the course of his research, Jonathan became active in an international campaign over the impact of hydropower development on poor communities along the course of the Mekong River and its tributaries (China, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam), working especially on Australia’s role in promoting hydropower development. Since completing his doctorate, Jonathan has worked in various capacities with Oxfam Australia under the broad theme of Natural Resource Management in the Mekong Region. Oxfam has been campaigning for sustainable approaches to river basin development in the Mekong region since 1998.

Summary: Water & Livelihoods in the Mekong - The Mekong River and its tributaries is the lifeblood for millions of rural poor in China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The river is a critical source of drinking water, nutrition and transport, and a vital agricultural resource. However there is increasing competition for access to, and control over the waters of the Mekong River: between upsteam and downstream countries; between commercial interests and subsistence farmers and fishers; between urban and rural communities. Through a variety of processes, the Mekong River is being transformed from an amazingly abundant common resource to an increasingly privatised commodity which is under serious ecological strain. In the high level power struggle over rights and access to water, it is poor communities who have the most to lose.

* Presentations given in PDF format - Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view and print. You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader from Adobe

Future events

All events will be held at the Adelaide Town Hall from 5.30pm - 7.00pm.  Schools Alert will be held from 4.00pm - 5.00pm.

Keeping the peace

Avoiding the cost of conflict in humanitarian aid
Tuesday 3 October 2006

Previous events

While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy – valuing our cultural diversity – and building our future.