Today is World Water Day – a day dedicated to one of the most precious resources on earth. World Water Day is also a time to reflect on how fortunate we are. For most Australians, clean water is readily available and affordable. This however, is not the experience of many people in the countries who receive Australian aid. WaterAid’s new report ‘Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water’ , reveals the high price some of the world’s poorest people pay for this most basic need.
In Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, roughly half the population live in informal settlements. Few of these communities are connected to the public water mains and sewerage pipes. This leaves people to purchase water for drinking and cooking from private vendors. At a cost of 7.5 Kina ($3.25) for 50 litres (the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum to meet daily basic needs) low-income earners can spend up to 54 per cent of their daily earnings on clean water. People that can’t afford this price are left with a wicked choice: cut back their water use to potentially unsafe levels, or collect dirty water from ponds and rivers.
With 650 million people worldwide without access to safe water, this scenario is all too common. The biggest barrier to improving people’s access to water has been political will – in many countries, this vital service has been given little political priority and in turn has received little investment. This was true of Papua New Guinea until a year ago, when the PNG Government approved its first National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Policy.
With the policy only recently introduced, there is now momentum in PNG to ensure everyone has access to clean, plentiful and affordable water. But there’s also a need for money and skills to turn the policy into reality. Overcoming these barriers is where Australian aid can, and has been, helping. WaterAid, in part supported by Australian Aid, participated in the development of PNG’s policy and continues to be a member of the Government’s policy taskforce, advising on best approaches to water supply in rural, remote and peri-urban communities. We’re also working with Port Moresby’s water utility Eda Ranu, and the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (who also receive funding from Australian Aid) to identify how the urban and peri-urban poor can be provided with affordable water and sanitation services.
Australian Aid is supporting similar good work in many other countries elsewhere. In 2013-14 (the most recent year results were available) Australian aid provided 2.9 million people with increased access to safe water. With access to water everything changes: However, access to safe water changes everything: people are healthier, they’re more productive, and women and children can use the time they spent collecting water to go to school or pursue paid work.
However, this good work is being undermined by cuts to the aid budget. With a cut of $66.7 million to aid for basic water and sanitation between financial years 2014-15 and 2015-16, investment in the basic necessities now stands at $48.2 million – the lowest level in a decade. That’s why this World Water Day, we’re calling on the Government to restore this cut. With clean water the foundation of a healthy, productive and dignified life, restoring this cut is one way Australia can help our neighbours to realise their potential.