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Water, sanitation and hygiene

Overview of Australia's assistance for water, sanitation and hygiene

2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$31.8 million

* Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

The Health for Development Strategy 2015-16 identifies investments in access to water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as being an essential foundation for people's health and quality of life. Health is critical to improving livelihoods, enabling poor people to participate in the economy, and lifting living standards.

Australia's support for improved access to WASH in the Indo-Pacific through the aid program includes:

  • Programs that increase access to WASH delivered through country programs working directly with governments
  • The Civil Society WASH Fund is implementing innovative WASH activities directly with communities and sharing lessons from their experiences
  • Support for multilateral global programs which assist governments in policy reform, encourage greater local WASH investment, capacity building of institutions and knowledge management.

Why we give aid

"The impact of lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation is perhaps greatest on women and girls. Clean water and safe sanitation underpin almost everything else we are trying to achieve. Investing in community-based sanitation and hygiene programs is one of the most effective ways to improve the health, self-esteem, education prospects for girls and women."

Minister For Foreign Affairs - Hon Julie Bishop MP, Address to the 10th Anniversary of WaterAid Australia 25 March 2015

Inadequate access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and poor hygiene practices lead to significant health impacts, particularly for women and children. The World Bank estimates that inadequate access to sanitation and clean water costs the world US$260 billion annually in health costs and lower productivity. Yet globally, around 2.4 billion people (one third of the world's population) do not have access to improved sanitation and 663 million people remain without sustainable and improved sources of drinking water. There are also issues of inequality including the gender burden of water collection, and challenges in reaching marginalized groups in the poor, elderly and people with disabilities.

Poor sanitation leads to around 842,000 premature deaths globally each year, with more than 361,000 children dying each year as a result of diarrhoeal disease–or over 1000 child deaths per day On average poor access to water and sanitation costs countries 1.5 per cent of their GDP so increasing coverage of these services contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction.

Inadequate access to WASH is linked to the spread of diseases including cholera, diarrhoeal disease, polio and hepatitis. Improved access to WASH services in homes, health centres and schools can decrease the spread of diseases, reduce the incidence of malnutrition (stunting) and reduce pre-natal and post natal risks.

Water security and access to WASH are featured in the global development agenda under a dedicated goal for water and sanitation - Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

How we give aid

Aid investments in WASH are implemented in different development contexts across the region. Access to basic WASH services remains a priority in the Pacific and fragile states. In Asia, support for budget and policy reform are critical to encourage greater engagement with the private sector, innovation and capacity building of institutions to deliver affordable services, including to the poor.

We work with government partners, civil society organisations and multilateral partners to strengthen institutions, undertake policy reform, promote good hygiene behaviors, and support infrastructure investment. This includes projects that improve access to WASH facilities in schools and health centres, especially benefiting women and girls, and contributing to increased school attendance.

DFAT country programs work closely with partner governments to assist them to implement their national WASH strategies. For example, in Indonesia, we support the innovative Water and Sanitation Hibah program, which encourages local governments to invest in their water and sanitation services through water utilities. A grant is given for each new connection made by a utility, after it is verified that the households have paid the water bill for at least two months and that the recipients are satisfied with the service.

Where there are gaps in WASH services reaching the poor, Australian aid works with civil society organisations (CSOs) with strong on-the-ground expertise to deliver a range of WASH activities. Through the current Civil Society WASH Fund Australian aid is supporting thirteen CSOs to deliver innovative WASH programs in Asia, the Pacific and Africa to 2018. Many CSO's are scaling up sanitation and water supply access by working with small private sector providers and social enterprises to improve market mechanisms of water and sanitation product supply chains.

The follow-on program to the Civil Society WASH Fund is the Water for Women Fund. The program will invest $110.6 million over five years to improve the health, gender equality and well-being of Asian and Pacific communities through inclusive, sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. The initiative is part of Australia's commitment to the High Level Panel on Water.

Australia works with a range of multilateral partners through a WASH Global Initiative on policy reform and advocacy for greater WASH investments by countries in our region. These partnerships work to strengthen government institutions to deliver effective and sustainable WASH services. These partnerships include:

  • The World Bank's Water Global Practice
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Water Quality Partnership for Health
  • Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
  • UNICEF-WHO Joint Monitoring Program
  • Sanitation and Water for All Partnership

Australian volunteers also help to improve WASH outcomes in our partner countries. Read a case study about a volunteer's experience working in the WASH sector in Solomon Islands.

DFAT supports WASH-capacity building. WASH101 is a DFAT-funded online training package, developed by the International Water Centre (IWC). WASH101 provides comprehensive entry-level training on key aspects of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), through three easy-to-follow online modules.

Water for development

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