Written by Pyae Phyo Kyaw
It was around mid-march when I saw a post on the Myanmar Water Portal website that scholarships were available for international young water professionals from the Indo-Pacific region to attend Ozwater'19 this May. Ozwater is Australia's international water conference and exhibition, which is run annually by the Australian Water Association.
As an active young water professional in the urban water sector, I was thrilled to apply for the scholarship. Before applying for it, I thoroughly researched the event and I found out that the topics covered in the conference were relevant to my current work. With the utmost enthusiasm, I applied for the scholarship. Fortunately, I was selected to represent Myanmar as one of the young water professionals.
Ozwater’19 – Transforming our World (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)
This year, the Ozwater theme was "Transforming our World". To fulfill that vision, 16 young water professionals received grants from the Australian Water Partnership to partake in the Ozwater'19. From 6th to 10th May, we had the opportunity to join the Young Water Professional Program, and attend the networking events, conference sessions and site tours. I will briefly highlight my 5-day experience at this event.
My first day kicked off with the Young Water Professionals Program. The program covered a range of subjects: communication, collaboration, diversity, inclusion, cultural values in water management, participatory decision-making, and unconscious biases.
Young Water Professionals Program (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)
One of the speakers from the program, Troy Brockbank (New Zealand Young Water Professional of the Year 2018) shared about successful culturally-enhanced water co-management approaches with examples based on his own experiences. Being aware of the complexity of Myanmar water issues, his talk was a great input to reflect on. I realized how Myanmar, a birthplace of many culturally rich indigenous people, can only incorporate long-term integrated water management solutions by combining modernity and cultural values together.
One of the workshops in the program, "Unconscious Bias", was facilitated by Duncan Smith, Principal of ADC Associates. He thoroughly explained about the types of unconscious biases and how they can affect our day-to-day decision-making. He used a remarkable quote from Robert Davies in his presentation – "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend". Being only human, we tend to judge and stereotype people based on their race, gender, skin color and age. He carefully explained the importance of diversity and inclusion and how we can manage our own unconscious biases. It was an intriguing session. Many thoughts came into my mind as the root of most problems in our country is correlated to our unconscious biases.
Conferences and Exhibition at Ozwater'19 (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)
Over the next three days, I joined multiple conference sessions focused on water quality and health, water sensitive urban design, asset management, project community engagement, social inclusion, city-scale planning, and many more. The exhibition hall was also filled with numerous water enterprises displaying their cutting-edge technologies. Most of their products were fascinating.
Keynote speaker: Mina Guli (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)
One of the highlights is from an inspirational keynote speaker, Mina Guli. She is dedicated to addressing global water issues.She established a non-profit organization called "Thirst" to solve the water crisis by changing peoples' perceptions of water. To support SDG-6, she completed the 7 Deserts Run and the 6 River Run. In November 2018, Mina initiated Running Dry, a campaign of 100 marathons in 100 days around the world for one reason – water. After participating in 62 consecutive marathons, she had a fracture in her femur which stopped her from running. Nevertheless, her supporters ran the remaining 38 marathons for her to accomplish the challenge. The way Mina delivered her story was mesmerizing. She is indeed a great water leader whom we should look up to.
Australia-Vietnam Water Utility Improvement Program Closing Workshop (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)
I had a chance to attend the closing workshop of the Australia-Vietnam Water Utility Improvement Program funded by the Australian Water Partnership. I have observed that this 2-year program brought successful cooperation between six Australian water utilities and five Vietnam water utilities.From this program, asset management, water safety plan, customer engagement, human resource management and other areas of the partner, Vietnam water utilities, were enhanced. These significant changes can happen due to the autonomy of the utilities. In my opinion, it is unlikely that Myanmar water utilities will become effective unless water institutions are soundly reformed to become organizations that are more customer focused and employee-oriented.
Site Tour to Yarra Vally Water Waste to Energy Plant
On the final day, I went to a Waste to Energy Plant built by Yarra Vally Water, Melbourne's largest retail water utility. The Waste to Energy facility digests organic waste such as food scraps, out of date poultry, rotten vegetables, and even fats and oils. Anaerobic digestion is used to produce methane gas. After purifying the methane gas, it is converted into clean electricity. Currently, the plant is serving 25 percent of the overall energy requirements of Yarra Vally Water. The advanced technologies that they have applied in this plant are truly captivating. At last, my Ozwater'19 journey ended here.
Networking event organized by the Government of Victoria (Photo Credit: Dara Chea)
During this 5-day event, I was genuinely inspired by the water leaders to make a difference. I have realized that it is challenging for Myanmar to achieve SDG-6 if we manage the water sector without making any significant changes. We have already fallen behind over the last decade due to ineffective operations and several barriers to change. Currently, Myanmar faces difficulties in coping with severe drought, flood, pollution and climate emergency. Instead of playing the blame game, now is the best time to find common ground. We should work together as a team to build a sound foundation for the Myanmar water sector. Therefore, I would like to urge politicians, corporates, and senior professionals to uplift youngsters because the only key to leapfrog Myanmar's development is in the hands of our younger generation.
Young Water Professionals at Ozwater’19 (Photo Credit: Australian Water Association)