And a very happy World Toilet Day to you all
As a politician one of my roles is to attend official openings. Like all of my colleagues I’ve opened schools, sporting facilities, roads, bridges and buildings complete with photos in a hardhat and safety vest. It is a part of the job and one that I quite enjoy.
It is fair to say that in my twenty-two years in Parliament I have attended hundreds of these ceremonies. Out of all of them, there is one which sticks in my mind as both the strangest and also among the most important.
In 2008, in the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati, I formally opened a girl’s toilet at a school.
The toilet, which was built with funds provided by the Australian Government, had a truly remarkable effect for the girls in the community. Without a girl’s toilet parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school, fearing for their safety. The toilet provided both security and dignity for the girls in the community and its construction allowed them their right to an education.
Stories such as this highlight the profound impact simple things like toilets can have on an individual’s quality of life.
With today being World Toilet Day, it is important that we recognise the fundamental importance of having a loo and access to clean water.
There are still 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to a toilet and 1.2 million children in the developing world die as a result of inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
Worldwide 88 per cent of deaths from diarrhoea are attributable to lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation.
Around 18 per cent of the world’s population are forced to publicly defecate. This means that an estimated 500,000 tonnes of faeces are dumped in the street, in paddocks, in rivers and streams every day.
In 2000, Australia joined 189 other countries in committing to the Millennium Development Goals. These goals aim to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and end it by 2025. They are a bold statement of the change we want to achieve in the first quarter of the 21st century. They are a practical and measurable score sheet against which we can track our successes and our shortcomings.
Progress towards many of these goals, including improving maternal and child health, primary education, gender equality and economic growth, rely in some way on progress in the area of water and sanitation.
Proper sanitation is also fundamental in enabling gender equality. Women suffer when sanitation is not safely available where they live, often going the entire day without eating or drinking for fear of having to publicly defecate during daylight hours. This has significant impacts on their health.
Without private toilet facilities, women are also often at increased risk of sexual assault.
Without localised access to clean water, women and children are forced to waste millions of hours a year walking to collect water, which is often also not safe to drink. These are millions of hours children should be in school and women should be participating in their communities and economies.
Recognising the importance of water and sanitation the Australian Government, through AusAID, will invest $300 million over three years to improve access to clean water and sanitation. This will build on the achievements that have already been made in this area.
For example, since 2002, Australian support in East Timor has enabled over 90,000 people to access clean water and sanitation.
In Vietnam, Australia has jointly funded a project which has given around 45,000 people access to hygienic toilets.
Last week I was in a village in Malawi in which a water and sanitation project is planned. The women in the village told me of the consequences of no water for toilets at the school, at the medical centre or in the marketplace.
This is why we will be working with the African Development Bank and the World Bank’s Africa Regional Water and Sanitation Program to fund water and sanitation activities throughout Africa to expand and improve access to clean water and safe sanitation facilities.
Australia is going to work harder in the area of water and sanitation because we know that what we want to achieve in the developing world cannot happen without first addressing the unacceptable numbers of people who do not have access to these most basic of needs.
We understand water is life and sanitation is dignity and human beings have a fundamental right to both.
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