The ability to supply water to people in the future is intricately linked to the health of the environment, so it wasn’t surprising that both environmental issues and looking to the future were underlying themes of Aquatech Asia 2001. The event was held for the first time in Thailand, at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre from March 6 to 8.

As permanent secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Interior, Mr Chanasak Yuvapurna, noted during his opening address, "Water supply is one of the key issues in the new millennium, not only for cities and governments, but also for the entire population. Whatever decisions we make today will have effects on the water quality and supply of the future." With 76 companies and organisations exhibiting at Aquatech Asia 2001, attendees were in a good position to improve their knowledge of the latest advances in the water industry, and so make better decisions for their – and everybody’s – future.

The opening ceremony was followed by a presentation by Mr Chanasak to the winners of the second Asia Water Management Excellence Awards, sponsored by the Regional Institute of Environmental Technology (RIET) under the patronage of Aquatech Asia 2001 [and support of Asian Water?]. In 2000, eight nominees vied for the four awards; this year, 25 nominees put forward their names, an indication of the increasing seriousness with which the awards are viewed.

His Royal Highness Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, Sultan of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, won the individual award, STMicroelectronics from Singapore won the industry award, and the ABS-CBN Foundation of the Philippines won the NGO award. In the government category, no award was given due to a lack of sufficient documentation submitted by nominees. "This is certainly not to say that government organisations are not good enough to receive an award," said Dr Philippe Bergeron, director of RIET. "We are convinced there are plenty of government organisations across the region which certainly deserved the award."

With the formalities dispensed with, visitors were free to browse the exhibition, which included a spread of both private and government organisations, and suppliers of industrial, municipal and residential equipment and services. Marcel Ewals, general manager of organisers Bangkok Rai, said that many companies were very interested in Thailand. "Privatisation is on the agenda here, so many international companies are knocking on Thailand’s door."

In fact 70 per cent of organisations present were international, including German giant Bayer AG, Dutch companies Eijkelkamp Agrisearch Equipment, Iwaco (Asia) Ltd and Siemens, and others from Asia, Europe and America. The USA Pavilion featured 19 American companies, while the Netherlands country stand showcased the products of ten Dutch organisations. Local branches of Osmonic Asia Pacific, BWT Permo and Thames Water International also exhibited.

Several companies used the exhibition as a launching point for their move into Asia, such as American water-filter company Aquaspace and Italy’s Maddalena, a manufacturer of measuring instruments, while larger companies believed attending such an exhibition was important in terms of maintaining a presence. Thames’ Gary Wyeth said that the company wanted to let people know they were working on large projects in Thailand. "Being here doesn’t really help business, as there are only two organisations here we do business with [the Provincial Water Authority and Municipal Water Authority]. We’re quite happy to just let people know we’re here."

Bayer’s Roland Ragozzini said their booth was also about getting their name out among people. "We’re here to make our presence felt and want to make as many people as possible aware of the features of our products. We might get some additional business, but it’s more to do with prestige."

While the exhibition demonstrated that meeting people is still an intergral part of business, several exhibitors showcased the potential for the Internet to help., a year-old website featuring 5,000 Thai environmental product producers, was there to make itself known to foreign distributors hoping to penetrate the Thai market, while the non-commercial Netherlands Water Partnership demonstrated their website,, which helps the organisation be a single contact point for people seeking information on the Dutch water sector.

Both exhibitors and visitors were largely pleased with the exhibition, although some were disappointed with its size and numbers. Satit Sanongphan, deputy director of exhibitor US Asia Environmental Partnership in Thailand, said the exhibition had assisted American companies looking for joint ventures or partnerships with local firms. However, he added that the American exhibitors had hoped to meet with more end-users. "It may be because of the timing of the show – some visitors have commented that the show closed too early, and was not open on Saturday or Sunday, so it makes it difficult for engineers, managers, and maintenance specialists to come."

BWT Permo export manager Fabrice Lombardo said it was important to be at this exhibition. "You can’t say you are an international company today without also being in Asia," he said, adding that this exhibition was about business, while Aquatech Amsterdam was more about prestige. "We’ve made very good new contacts. We are a bit disappointed with the other exhibitors – it’s too small. And the organisers could have done more advertising to educate people about the exhibition."

Richard Rosen from Summit Research Labs, manufacturers of wastewater treatment chemicals, thought that attendance had been excellent. "There has been a good mix of end-users, water authorities and distributors. It’s been very well-organised. Normally you can find something wrong with a trade show, but this one has been very, very good."

Delegate Frank Evans, a consultant with the South Australian Water Industry Alliance, described the exhibition as excellent. "It’s the people that you meet, the networks that you make that are extremely important. I’ve seen some similar exhibits before, but there’s always some new technologies and approaches that you’re not aware of." However, visitors Laura Sirvent and Dr Juan Salas, from Baynard JR International, came from Spain for the event and were disappointed with its size. "One day is enough to visit – Aquatech in Amsterdam is ten times bigger. We also thought there would be a lot more Asian companies exhibiting," Ms Sirvent said.

The conference running in conjunction with the exhibition, "Focus on Asia", attracted more than 250 delegates. The first day focused on technology developments, day two saw a focus on management practices, while the final day – which attracted an extra 66 delegates – featured a range of technical papers on water treatments.

Suwat Wissurak from Thailand’s Provincial Water Authority attended the conference to learn about the latest in water technology and found it quite educative. "Mostly it’s been very good, although some of the technology being discussed is too high [to be relevant for us]." Siemens manager Jan Mahn said he listened to several useful papers, but had hoped to hear more about visions for the future. "The relevant papers covered integrated processes, and focused on implementing these into the market. I would have liked to hear more about strategies and solutions to improve business, especially in Asia."

Improving business in Asia was indeed what most exhibitors and visitors hoped to achieve from attending Aquatech Asia 2001. While most agreed it would take some time to gauge the financial success of the event, there’s little doubt that it gave people a valuable opportunity to meet and exchange ideas – and those are priceless.

/ Current Affairs