Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Community Consultation: Offer information instead of coffee & Aspro!

Community Meeting at Ferny Creek Hall

I have laryngitis which according to one very kind and wise neighbour is 'my friend' tonight!  How right she is. I have just returned from a community consultation in Ferny Creek to hear the property developer Adam Garrisson and restaurateur partner Shannon Bennet present their proposal to revive Burnham Beeches (BB) to the local community. You can read more about BB (and Shannon and Adam) here.

BB is right opposite Sherbrooke Forest, approximately 40km east of Melbourne at an altitude of 300m. It forms part of a national park, and is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world - the Mountain Ash.  Tourists flock here to enjoy the cooler climate, walk the many trails and admire the natural beauty of the fauna and flora, which is in abundance (or so it appears to the naked untrained eye).

Moves are afoot (again) to restore Burnham Beeches, a now derelict and abandoned building formerly belonging to the Aspro king - Alfred Nicholas.

Pity we didn't have any Aspirins handy tonight - even home brand would have done it! The community meeting I witnessed turned into a missed opportunity by the developers to actually consult and inspire some modicum of community support to revive Burnham Beeches and its (contentious) grounds, and do so in an environmentally sensitive way.   Confronted with (mostly) articulate and constructive comments from community members, the developers' panacea of choice was to offer to discuss matters over a cup of coffee.  

Substantial information would have made a bigger difference:

1) Disclosure - make it accessible- the developers appear to have chosen a planning process which essentially involves engaging in community consultation upfront, and once a 'final' plan has been agreed on, the community will have no more say or avenues for objection to the plan.  Assuming this is in fact the case, precise and accessible information becomes vital. To leave the community adrift between a Councillor who could not explain the process and a shrugging developer saying we submitted everything to the Council, is ludicrous in the age of the internet. Easily accessible information on a website (without commercially sensitive information) would have been a better platform for starting this dialogue.

2) Pictures - I was astounded that the developers, who by their own admission have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this project so far, could not see it fit to light up the screen behind them at least with the tiny jpeg of the master plan which I found here.  They were completely upstaged by one articulate Mr PhD candidate, whose presentation left me with visions of Owls, rats, wallabies and Lyrebirds, fearing extinction and taking the next Puffing Billy out of here if this goes ahead. 

3) Mini-village or just more beds? There was huge contention about the number of units the developer is likely to build (in addition to the hotel rooms in BB) and whether these constituted 'dwellings', would in fact be available for on-sale by an investor. It is common to fund property developments through the use of quasi 'time-share' schemes, most often using a managed investment structure. Often these schemes involve only the right to occupy a premise and no clear title, and no ability to occupy exclusively.  More information on this would have been very useful.

4) experience in environmentally sensitive areas- Mr Garrison's experience in reviving historic derelict buildings is formidable. However, BB is located literally on the doorstep of a National Park and also provides an environmental corridor for native fauna (thanks Mr PhD candidate!). And while looks to offer inviting hospitality experiences, some in remote locations, which one is similar in conditions to BB, when considering Sherbrooke Forest and an Australian community around it?

5) community benefits - the 's' word: much use was made tonight of the 'sustainability' concept. How the grounds for the Piggery are currently sustainable re-using most of their waste, how the hotel cannot be financially sustainable if additional units are not built, how the development would create local jobs - even career paths for the community. Yet nobody really addressed the sustainability for the environment and the community, ostensibly the 'people' represented in the room tonight. Sadly we did not hear any detail from experts about the expected environmental footprint of the plan and how this would be mitigated, nor the pressure this will place on available water supply and discharge. Mr Bennett said that his cafe served 700 people the other day and the hotel could have capacity for 1,750.  I guess this is comparable provided you don't expect the additional 1,050 to shower or use the loo too much - just like in the cafe?!  The Council was equally unprepared for this evening. Assuming that it stands to gain additional rate payer revenue if the proposed development went ahead, I would be curious to understand how that revenue will be applied for the benefit of affected communities in the hills, in the form of roads and other necessary infrastructure to manage the additional 1,750 visitors per day.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We can't Wait and Neither should you - help build toilets for 5,000 children!

Mark Balla heads up the We Can't Wait mission - toilets for girls in need, particularly teenage girls in India.

We know water services are fundamental to economic growth but how exactly?

This is where Mark's excellent presentation comes in- he drives the point home simply and eloquently:

Toilets = Healthy Lives = Dignity & Safety especially for teenage girls and women = Education = Economic Empowerment, which as we know contributes to economic growth.

Please take a minute to watch Mark's excellent TEDX presentation in Queenstown and

dig deep because We Can't Wait is short the last USD 20,000 to build toilets for 5000 children across 8 schools in India.  You can make a tax deductible donation in Australia through Rotary:

Thank you!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Kuwait: Al Qatami & Dropbydrop form consortium for water education program

Al Qatami Holdings, of Kuwait and Dropbydrop, Melbourne based water governance consultancy, have established a consortium to launch a water conservation and education program for citizens and residents of Kuwait.

Mr Al Qatami, Chairman of Al Qatami Holdings, is a well known business figure in Kuwait. His family has a long standing presence in the region, and has made significant contributions to rebuilding the country following the upheaval of the Iraqi invasion.  Concerned about what he considered to be the wasteful use of water, Mr Al Qatami was looking for innovative ways to educate all residents about the value of water.

Dropbydrop is a water governance consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia with projects globally. Ruxandra Lazarescu, Managing Director, was in Kuwait today to establish the consortium with Mr Al Qatami.

'We are very proud to be associated with Mr Al Qatami and his group, to introduce innovative water saving education to Kuwait. Together with our Australian partner SaveWater, a non-profit based in Melbourne which helps communities throughout Australia value water, we are ready to contribute to water saving in Kuwait.  Despite some sophisticated technology, particularly in this region, water remains a very local affair and people's attitudes are key to its use and ultimately, its conservation.'  

For further details please contact:

Mr Ali Al Qatami

Ms Ruxandra Lazarescu
+61 401 825 988

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Time for Broader Due Diligence: Potential conflicts over land and water could cost investors billions!

The Munden Report has highlighted the potential for billions of dollars of loss to investors who disregard indigenous land entitlements:

Many governments have not yet fully mapped indigenous land claims and grant concessions without considering who lives on the land or whether communities support the planned development. Meanwhile, concessionaires, the report found, tend to either assume the government has already worked out an agreement with the local people or rely on “often poorly constructed” compensation plans to “shove these inhabitants off to the side.” 

Just as land rights have not been mapped, the lack of transparent water regulation allowing all users to understand their rights poses investment risks if ignored.  The fact is that indigenous communities maintain an entitlement to water regardless of whether this has been documented.  A government's inability to meet this entitlement by overallocation to investors can equally lead to damaging and disruptive conflicts.  As governments struggle with allocation and stresses of climate change, the time has come for a broader due diligence beyond confirming soil types and general availability of water. A due diligence that include all stakeholders. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over!

Saana, Yemen
So said Mark Twain.  International geo-strategist Brahma Chellaney, seems to agree with Twain at least about war, if not about whiskey, in his recent work: Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

The World Affairs Journal  introducing Chellaney's book, warns:

So forget deforestation, climate change, or peak oil, and think about the coming crisis over “blue gold,” 

According to the Journal, the Yemeni city of Saana is due to run dry in the next 12 years if groundwater reserves are deplete. Experts believe that Abu Dhabi is likely to follow suit.  The fact that Abu Dhabi and Saana have considerable different economic resources to draw on is also significant.  Chellaney's view that we will see more 'water refugees' is perhaps a contributing motivator behind the recent announcement that the GCC will sponsor de-salination in neighbouring and impoverished Yemen.

Chellaney advises. “The golden age of safe, cheap, and easily available water has come to an end in most parts of the world, replaced by a new era of increasing supply and quality constraints.”

The idea of water wars has been much discussed by international strategy experts.  In 2012 it received official government attention when the Director of National Intelligence published the US Global Water Security Report at the request of former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. 

While we're not familiar with the recommendations made by Chellaney, surely international assistance will be called for. As blogged earlier, this presents an opportunity for Australia to take a leadership role and share both its expertise and its experience in water management.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria - lessons on water management?

Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

'How could a drought spark a civil war?' 
an important question posed by this NPR article.  The article considers Nayan Chanda's, editor-in-chief of Yale GlobalOnline Magazine, argument that climate change has to be considered as a factor of war.  
It concludes that "long before a single shot was fired in Syria, there was drought in Dara'a, laying the groundwork for social unrest." A recent discussion on the LinkedIn group: Water Food Energy Nexus had posed the same question and elicited some heated debate.

Climate change or a changing climate, whichever is politically more palatable to you, is completely ignorant of whether a government will recognise its existence or contribution to it.  At the same time it can have potentially brutal effects on people, seriously undermining their food security.

Water remains the key factor as the conduit through which climate change impact is most felt.   International focus on access to drinking water and sanitation as part of the MDGs, needs to become more holistic and include managing water as a resource across natural and man-made borderlines.  Let's move back from the tap to the source!

This focus could be translated into:
  • recognition that drought and flood management respectively affect food security, and thereby a country's stability 
  • greater leadership among the international community by countries such as Australia with internationally recognised drought management methods
  • international aid policies which do not lose sight of the importance of water resource management and help facilitate the sharing of expertise in this area through collaborative practices

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prof Tony Allan: Food Value Chain holds the key to water management

Prof Tony Allan of King's College and SOAS, London, addressed a group last Friday at the offices of Net Balance, in Melbourne

His message was simple and powerful - better water management needs a more careful examination of the food value chain and its key actors.

Food accounts for up to 90% of water use world wide, and is grossly underpriced not properly reflecting the 'use' of water and its effect on the environment. Playing on the acronym for the FAO, Professor Allen suggested that Farmers, Accountants and Optimists will save the world.

While the water consumption differs from country to country, his challenge for accountants applies globally: work out a better way to account for  the environmental contribution to our food production.

Well done to Water Stewardship Australia and Net Balance for hosting the father of 'Virtual water' in Melbourne.