Chairing a conference can be a lot of hard work with a few minutes of fame at the beginning and end – ask the current IAL2011 Chair, Chris Thompson. But for me one of the highlights of chairing 2010’s One Water: Many Futures conference was hosting our two overseas keynote speakers, Professor Kader Asmal from South Africa and Sandra Postel from USA. Both provided insightful, challenging and positive views from the outside looking in.
Almost a year to the day after the conference I heard of the passing of Kader Asmal. We were indeed most fortunate to have heard from such an eloquent, outspoken and colourful character as Kader.
Kader Asmal became involved in water management through some dramatic events in recent South African history. It was an unusual, but some considered inspired, choice by Nelson Mandela to appoint Kader as his first water minister in 1994.
It was a challenge that he relished: “my relationship with water use and management has been one of the most creative and exciting aspects of a chequered and full life”.
As a human rights lawyer, Kader brought a unique perspective to the redrafting of the South Africa’s Water Act. The act introduced the “Reserve” to meet the basic needs of all people and the ecosystem, and placed this as the most important share of the water resource. It also dramatically changed the way the natural resource was viewed and managed. As he explained, “The fact that the National Water Act placed the Reserve above industry and irrigation does not mean that these sectors are less important, it just emphasises that there are constraints to development set by the environment, and we need to recognise those limitations, a key principle in sustainability”.
One evening last year, Kader was guest of honour at a parliament, this time in NSW rather South Africa. He urged those attending the Water Leaders Dinner to take a greater world leadership role. “The management of our precarious and dwindling water resource is likely to be the barometer for managing the economy in general under conditions of resource constraints. Are we up to this test? I hope so.”
Both our international guests were impressed with Australia’s progress and the level of discussion across the industry. With so many challenges and so much happening on the home front it’s easy for us to get self absorbed. What we are doing is leading the world in many areas of water management. We are being watched!
It would be a fitting tribute to Kader Asmal if we could increase the cooperation between Australia and South Africa to expand our connections beyond rugby and cricket to learn from each other with respect to water management.
I will leave the last words to Kader. “I also propose a trade. Please send back our water sector professionals – we need them at home – and you can take all your eucalypts and wattles back.”
Note. You can view Kader Asmal’s presentation on water management, “Responsible transformation of water management in an era of scarcity: achieving multiple objectives in a complex and dynamic content”.