World Water Forum Tackles Widening Global Challenges

The legacies of Bob Hawke and Landcare

Wed 22 May 24


It was enough to convince Bob Hawke. On a July morning in 1989, during his Wentworth address, he launched the National Landcare initiative, committing $320 million to the program.

At the same time, the Prime Minister declared the 1990s as the “Decade of Landcare”.

Such worthy initiatives were justifiably applauded. But I thought, at the time, Hawke could have also signed in ‘Water Care’ to the initiative.

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Bob Hawke with one of the architects of Landcare, Phillip Toyne of the Australian Conservation Foundation. (Photo Credit: Landcare Victoria Inc)

No water, then no land to care for.

Water is the single most essential resource for a plant’s survival and growth, far more important than fertilising, disease and pest control, or any other biological need.

Available figures show that around 395 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia absorb 6.5 million megalitres of water, drawn from various sources, including irrigation channels, pipelines, groundwater, rivers, creeks, lakes, and on-farm dams or tanks.

The volume of water used in rural areas for agricultural purposes amounts to around 7.97 million megalitres.

And what about our forests?

Australia has about 135 million hectares of forests—17% of the land area, or 3% of the world’s forest area—and is the seventh-largest reported forest area worldwide.

Our renewable forests are recognised and valued for their diverse ecosystems and unique biodiversity and for their provision of products such as wood and fibre.

Forests can absorb varying amounts of water, depending on factors such as tree species and environmental conditions. In the old language, a mature tree can transport up to 10,000 gallons of water with only 0.0045 megalitres usable for growth.

‘Soil water’ in the cycling of elements in forests is modified by soil organic matter balance. The preservation of hydric functions in forest soils depends on prioritisation of water balance restoration in every catchment basin enclosing the local element cycle.

More fundamentally, the development of a synergistically interlinked system based on the soil-forest-water-civilisation nexus remains an urgent priority – and this was profoundly embraced this week by heads of state and water experts at the 10th Triennial World Water Forum in Bali, where Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo expects to reach foreign investment agreements for 120 “strategic” water infrastructure projects.

Widodo is urging countries to strengthen their commitments to overcoming global challenges related to water.

“Without water, there is no food, there is no fibre, there is no life,” he said.

“No water, no life, no growth. Therefore, water must be managed well.”

During the week-long forum, the Indonesian government will pitch water-related projects worth $9.4 billion.

“We must produce concrete deliverables from this forum,” Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said, adding that 120 strategic projects related to water and sanitation would be agreed upon during the event.

The minister also mentioned that Indonesia will initiate the establishment of a Global Blended Finance Alliance Secretariat to promote funding for climate actions, including water management projects.

The world’s fourth-most-populous nation, with about 280 million people, Indonesia has insufficient infrastructure for clean water. It needs $1.7 trillion in funding to achieve its target of nation-wide access to drinking water by 2030, according to officials. Indonesia is seeking new sources of financing because the state budget can only cover 30% to 37% of its water infrastructure needs.

Jokowi is focusing on themes such as water conservation, the availability of clean water and sanitation, food and energy security, and the mitigation of natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

He will leave office in October, but said president-elect, Defence Minister Prabowo Subiant would continue Indonesia’s commitment to contribute towards global water management systems.

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) with the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, on the sidelines of the 10th World Water Forum in Bali on Monday. (Photo Credit: Antara Ho presidential secretariat Press Bureau)

Global communications tycoon Elon Musk, head of SpaceX and Tesla, also addressed the forum following a launch of SpaceX’s satellite internet service for Indonesia’s health sector.

Touching on the availability of water during his opening speech, the billionaire said access to fresh water was “simply about energy and transport” now that desalination had become more affordable.

He suggested expanding the use of cleaner energy to solve the water crisis.

“I think solar energy is very much underestimated in terms of its capability,” he said.

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest international conference on water. It is held every three years by the World Water Council, a non-governmental organisation, in conjunction with the host country. Indonesia is the third country in Asia to host the gathering, after Japan and South Korea..

Australia is represented at the forum by Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Patrick Gorman. “As the world’s driest inhabited continent, Australia understands the significant impacts climate change and population growth are having on our water resources and aquatic ecosystems,” Mr Gorman said.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Fijian President Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere are among regional leaders at the forum.

Editor’s note: The redwoods of northern California (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees in the world and can grow to heights of more than 110 metres or more. However, what finally limits their growth and height is still debated.

The most popular theory is the ‘hydraulic limitation hypothesis’, which suggests that as trees grow taller, it becomes more difficult to supply water to their leaves. This hydraulic limitation results in reduced transpiration and less photosynthesis, causing reduced growth.

In tall trees, water supply can be limited by two factors – distance and gravity. Tall trees have a longer pathway of transport tissue – known as xylem – which increases the difficulty of water to travel, something we call hydraulic resistance.

In addition, not only is the xylem pathway long, but the trees are tall, and the water must overcome gravity. Increased force is necessary to pull the water up to the highest leaves. This situation differs from a long hosepipe lying along the ground. It would have high resistance due to its length, but not the additional difficulty of being upright.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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