WASHing Away Poverty

Launch of Micah Challenge Report

Parliament House, Canberra


20 September 2011


Thank you for inviting me to the launch of your report and the opportunity to line up in a queue on the lawns of Parliament House.

It’s an interesting start to the day.

Your report reminds us again that the simple things we take for granted here in Australia — like access to clean, running water, built toilets, a decent sewage system — are, for many people around the world, a necessity they can't afford.

We know the problems this creates, especially for women and children. Diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers of children throughout the world and it is the reason we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in water, sanitation and hygiene programs in developing countries.

In fact just the other day we increased our assistance to the Horn of Africa by another $10 million to help UNICEF upgrade water and sanitation facilities in camps and in communities hosting displaced people.

But of course we have a long-term approach to improving water, sanitation that straddles many countries.

Impact of WASH on Public Health

The Australian Government is acutely aware of the impact that improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene can have on the health and livelihoods of poor people, including mothers and babies.

Over the past three years we have made a significant increase of $300 million in funding to this sector.

Our investment has made a big difference to millions of people’s lives.

  • in Indonesia where connections are being provided for 77,000 households to safe piped water and 5,000 households to sewers
  • in Vietnam where we provided an additional 2.5 million people with access to "hygienic" water, 756,000 households with access to latrines, and about 10,000 schools, clinics, commune centres and market places with water supply and sanitation facilities;
  • in East Timor where 100,000 people have been given access to improved water and sanitation since independence; and
  • in Zimbabwe where with UNICEF we are rehabilitating infrastructure and water treatment chemicals in 20 towns, benefiting more than two million people.

The Government recognises that investing in this sector is a proven way of achieving results for poor people. Promoting hygiene is one of the most effective ways of reducing the disease burden on children.

Future Funding for WASH

For this reason, in this year’s budget the Government announced an additional $433 million over the next 4 years for this sector.

This means the Government is planning to spend up to $900 million on WASH activities to 2014–15.

It’s hard to say exactly how much we spend separately on water, sanitation and hygiene activities because they are usually tightly integrated.

We might try to do breakdowns in the future but right now about 30 per cent of WASH spending is spent on sanitation work. This is double the proportion we spent on sanitation three years ago.

More generally, health is the second largest sector in the aid program, accounting for an estimated $759 million or 17 per cent of our aid budget.

And over the next four years we'll have $600 million worth of new health programs starting including assistance for mothers and babies in Africa.

In our response to the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness we said that investing in WASH is a key development objective of the aid program.

With partner governments we'll be able to do more and in more places — not just with the installation of better water and sanitation systems but in also developing good policies and regulatory environments.


Thanks again for inviting me to the launch of the report.

I assure you the Government understands the problem and we are doing a lot to help turn things around.

We know it’s a big challenge — 2.6 billion people not using basic sanitation, 800 million people without safe drinking water.

But we have a good aid program and a growing aid program –we are aiming with bipartisan commitment for 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015-16.

And beyond that, as the economy allows, Australia has the aspirational goal of raising aid to 0.7 per cent of GNI.

So we are genuine about reducing global poverty and helping countries meet their MDG targets, including MDG 7.

Thank you again for inviting me here today.


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