Empty low boat on flat river in front of green hills
Case study /
Promoting Australia

Tarek: water resource science

Image: 
Rory Hunter/ICEM
YANGON, MYANMAR

Born in Dubai and having grown up in Perth, Tarek Ketelsen is now sharing Australian experiences to improve river management to benefit 35 million people in Myanmar.

Soon after graduating from the University of Western Australia with a degree in Environmental Engineering and after working on water-related projects for mining operations in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, Tarek realised he was ‘a little downstream of the decision-making process’.

So he headed overseas to Vietnam with a small Australian-based company whose projects saw him work for the next ten years across Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, the Pacific and Nepal.

At the end of 2015, Tarek seized the chance to work on a huge, collaborative project in Myanmar: the Australian Water Partnership, an Australian Government initiative designed to share Australia’s water sector expertise in the Indo–Pacific region.

35 million people rely on the water of Myanmar’s largest river, the Ayeyarwady. Through the Australian Water Partnership, the people of Myanmar will learn more about the river and how to use and develop it sustainably. ‘This was a unique opportunity for me as a professional, as many of the big decisions on how to use and manage the river had not yet been made’, Tarek says.

I feel lucky to represent the Australian water story, to introduce other Australians to Myanmar’s discussion on water reform and to watch the journey evolve over time.

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Low, flat river with green shrubs and hills in the background

Nam Pawn, Myanmar. Image credit: Rory Hunter/ICEM

Tarek works alongside individuals from more than a dozen Australian organisations, companies, and universities to support and share skills and experience with people in the Government of Myanmar. He thinks the success of the project to date has had much to do with this collaborative approach. ‘We’ve supported a Myanmar-led process where issues are discussed and Australian experiences are offered’, Tarek says. ‘We are not seen as experts who just fly in to solve problems, we are partners who bring a range of experiences based on our own hard-fought lessons.’

Australian Government support has also been key to the project’s success. Tarek mentions in particular the ongoing assistance from the Australian Embassy, which builds on the already existing strong links between the governments of Australia and Myanmar.

For Tarek, he says he’s now at the right point of the decision making process. ‘I talk with people who are making decisions and bring them technical expertise to influence those decisions in a positive way.’ And he’s found a community that shares his passion. ‘The people here love their rivers. The rivers are seen as the heart of the community and there’s a strong commitment to safeguard their development for the interests of all people.’

Tarek is often the Australian face people see working in this area. ‘I feel lucky to represent the Australian water story, to introduce other Australians to Myanmar’s discussion on water reform and to watch the journey evolve over time’, he says.

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Tarek Ketelsen presenting speech to room in front of screen

Tarek talks at a public consultation at the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy, October 2017.  Image credit: Mia Signs/WLE Mekong Program.