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Australia’s development program

Australia's assistance for water

2024-25 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]

$101.3 million

2023-24 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]

$138.4 million

2022-23 total Australian ODA [actual]

$116.8 million

Partnerships for Recovery and water

Water is fundamental to all life on earth and underpins all human activity: food and energy production, physical health, life in cities, social stability. Yet, water scarcity is a growing global threat. Rising global population growth, increasing prosperity, the industrialisation of agriculture, urbanisation and pollution of water sources are placing unsustainable demands and pressures on the world’s clean freshwater resources.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of water to maintain most basic of hygiene practices – handwashing with soap – as the most cost-effective defense against virus transmission.

In responding to COVID-19, access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services is as important as using personal protective equipment (PPE). Our water resource management (WRM) and WASH programs have responded to COVID-19 in a range of different ways from using established networks to provide technical assistance to water utilities and boosting behaviour change programs to setting up emergency water services in public institutions such as schools and hospitals. In many ways, WRM and WASH responses are COVID-19 responses but more than that, improved WASH services not only reduce COVID-19 transmission but also other diseases, contributing to broader health benefits.

The World Economic Forum has rated water crises as a “top five global risk” in terms of impact since 2012. Climate change, which impacts through the water cycle, acts as a multiplier of the risks of water scarcity by increasing the variability and unpredictability of water resources.

According to the UN, 3.6 billion people worldwide, nearly half the global population, already live in water scarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050.[1] At the same time, some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities.[2]

Water including water resource management as well as water, sanitation and hygiene (or WASH) is a key development, foreign policy and security issue for Australia and our partners in the region. The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper considers that the “demand for sustainable sources of water, food and energy will be political, economic and security disruptors over the longer term.”

The Foreign Policy White Paper recognises Australia as having world-leading expertise in water which has developed over 30 years of reform. DFAT should use this experience as part of our development and foreign policy.

How we are helping

Australian support for the water sector encompasses water resource management (WRM) and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

WASH refers to the provision of drinking water and sanitation and hygiene services to communities. In Australia, WASH services are mainly provided by water utilities.

WRM refers to the management of water resources at large scale including aspects like dam storage, river basin management and water for agriculture.

Australia is a trusted regional leader in both WRM and WASH. Through our development program we harness Australia’s world-recognised expertise in water management, working in partnership with governments and communities in our region to achieve greater water security and better access to WASH services.

We work with partners to:

  • Strengthen health security through hygiene promotion campaigns and increased access to WASH facilities in schools, health care facilities and communities.
  • Improve regional stability through technical support for government health communication campaigns and sharing Australian water sector knowledge on business continuity.
  • Support economic recovery through improved water security for agriculture and the private sector thereby safeguarding economies and livelihoods including the millions who work in the water sector.

Our approach is built around strong and enduring partnerships with partner governments, the private sector, NGOs and community organisations, multilaterals, regional organisations and other development agencies.

Australia advocates in regional and global forums for a comprehensive approach to water. Water intersects with every aspect of development and has its own Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation for All, which links to nearly all other sustainable development goals.

Some groups of people with disabilities are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions and barriers they face in accessing what they need to keep themselves safe. Current evidence indicates also shows that their lives are disproportionately made more challenging by the health, economic and social impacts of the global pandemic.  People with disabilities already face greater barriers in accessing WASH and will experience greater difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic in accessing the information, facilities and products they need to meet their hygiene needs. Australia’s Water for Women Fund in collaboration with CBM Australia and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine developed guidance to help strengthen disability inclusion in COVID-19 WASH programming responses and adaptations.

How we contribute

Australia supports a range of water initiatives across its bilateral, regional and global programs. These are scaling up their efforts to respond to COVID-19 with our partners across the Indo-Pacific.

Australia’s flagship Water for Women Fund is supporting Partnerships for Recovery through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects. Water for Women is delivering safe, equitable and sustainable WASH services and helping to build healthy, inclusive and resilient societies.

Australia’s partnerships with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) focus on water, sanitation and hygiene in health care settings, water quality surveillance and data monitoring of WASH outcomes.

Australia also has highly valued technical and managerial capabilities in water resources management research. Through the Australian Water Partnership, we harness expertise to improve agricultural water security and accessibility in developing countries.

Through our investments in water, we support individuals, communities and countries to defend against and recover from, the COVID-19 crisis.

See further information on programs addressing water initiatives.

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

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