Discussion paper

The UN sustainable development goals for water, sanitation and hygiene: how should Australia respond within and beyond its borders?

Water Sustainable development sanitation hygiene Australia Southeast Asia Asia-Pacific

Australia is positioned next to south-east Asia, where one billion people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. Only half the population in the Pacific Island countries have access to such facilities, while poor hygiene and unsanitary living conditions have contributed to children in remote Australian Aboriginal communities experiencing a higher rate of common infectious diseases than in large urban communities.

In 2015, the UN updated its development agenda, outlining 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved in all countries globally by 2030. The SDGs included a goal specifically focused on water and sanitation (SDG 6), to ‘ensure access to water and sanitation for all’.

Australia is one of the 193 UN member countries that formally agreed to the SDGs. Australia has outlined its commitment to the SDGs through its foreign development aid and other support, but has not clarified its intended domestic implementation of the SDGs. This new UN ‘home-and-region’ perspective requires consideration of policy implementation questions as to how Australia should address the water-related aspects of the SDGs to deliver equity and wellbeing both within its own borders and through assisting nearby neighbours.

This policy challenge is explored in this discussion paper ahead of a high level political forum in July 2016, which Australia’s Prime Minister is expected to attend. The recommended strategic option for Australia to support the attainment of the SDGs both domestically and within the Asia Pacific region is through integrated thinking and delivery using a systems approach to problem-solving. This allows SDG targets to be identified that contribute to multiple goals, and prioritises these critical targets to increase the impact and feasibility of achieving the SDGs.

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