This paper is a contribution to the debate on how best to direct Australia’s investments to meet our objective of reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. The paper suggests that a focus on domestic water and sanitation is critical and will contribute significantly to poverty reduction in the region.Introduction (from page 2 of the report)
Australia’s overseas development aid assistance is set to increase substantially over the next four years. This much-welcomed increase could be stretched in multiple directions to satisfy multiple needs. This paper is a contribution to the debate on how best to direct Australia’s investments to meet our objective of reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. The paper suggests that a focus on domestic water and sanitation is critical and will contribute significantly to poverty reduction in the region.
An alarming number of people lack water and sanitation in our region. In South-East Asia and the Pacific1 in the year 2004, 100 million people were estimated to be living without safe water and 185 million without adequate sanitation. That is about five times Australia’s whole population without water and nine times our population without sanitation.
Widespread and indisputable evidence exists of the causal links between lack of safe water and sanitation and increased waterrelated disease, women’s burden through carrying water long distances, undermining of education through lost school days, and high infant mortality to name a few. Not surprisingly, the cost-benefit assessments of investment in water and sanitation are generally very positive – one recent study showed an average 8 fold economic net benefit.
Improvements in sanitation lag well behind water, in our region and elsewhere. Hidden in the shadow of water, sanitation receives much less attention or funding, and progress is hampered by the effects of cultural taboo and lack of community level awareness of the connection of faecal contamination to health and disease. But recent efforts demonstrate that effective interventions are now available, both for sanitation and for water, leaving us no excuse for continued inaction.
In the interest of alleviating human suffering and reducing poverty, the question that begs to be asked is why isn’t more effort being directed towards water, and especially sanitation, initiatives? The Australian government launched its Water Policy in 2003, "Making Every Drop Count". Four years on, application of the policy across countries in our region has been somewhat inconsistent and our level of investment is less than 1/5 of our fair share of the likely aid required to reach the water and sanitation Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). In particular, sanitation was largely missing from the policy at the outset and still is. There is clearly a need to do more.
This paper examines the silent humanitarian crisis occurring in our region, draws out how Australia and others can better address the challenges it presents, and provides guidance and ideas for how we might shape a stronger more appropriate role for Australia’s contribution. It is written to encourage greater action and commitment to this area by the Australian public and the Australian Government.