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National statements

Statement to the General Assembly on the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation

Thematic issues

  • Climate
  • Human Rights
  • Women


Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Mr President,

I would like to thank you for convening this important dialogue in the General Assembly, and to thank the Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur for their comments.

I would also like to thank President Evo Morales and the Plurinational State of Bolivia for bringing this life-sustaining, indeed life-creating, human need before the General Assembly.

Mr President

Australia understands something about water. We are the driest inhabited continent on earth, have one of the lowest rainfalls and about three-quarters of our land is arid or semi-arid. Over the last decade we experienced what scientists estimate to have been our worst drought in 1,000 years. But Australia is a wealthy country, a developed country, and our geography and our climate are tough. Our citizens are accustomed to restrictions on their access to water in all of our major cities because of climate change, drought and the degradation of our waterways.

Of course, this is nothing like the problems in Djibouti, so eloquently described by the Permanent Representative a few moments ago. But we hope that we understand the importance of water to survival and people's livelihoods, and the importance of water and sanitation to people's health, the sustainability of communities, particularly remote and indigenous communities, and to the environment.

We do recognise that access to water and sanitation is fundamental to the realisation of people's human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Mr President

The terrible drought in the Horn of Africa is a stark and tragic reminder of the scarcity of water and its impact on lives and livelihoods.

We are reminded of the hundreds of millions of people across the world still without access to safe drinking water. And the more than two billion people with no access to basic sanitation – due of course, in part, to water scarcity but also, in part, to poor policies and management that have failed to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they are and where they live, can access safe, affordable water and sanitation supplies and services.

The implications for the MDGs are clear. The international community will not meet its commitment to reduce poverty and hunger, promote gender equality and women's empowerment, reduce child and maternal mortality, combat disease, and ensure environmental sustainability without providing safe water and effective sanitation.

Australia is encouraged that the world is on track to meet the MDG 7 target to deliver safe drinking water to hundreds of millions of people. But we are alarmed that the sanitation target is likely to be missed by 1 billion people. We must do more.

The Australian Government itself has invested over US$330 million on water, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries since 2008. And we are planning to spend up to US$1 billion over the next four years to do much more.

Our NGOs also make water a priority.

Mr President

Variable rainfall patterns, pollution of water supplies, inefficient use and leakage of water supplies, poor infrastructure, high population growth, rapid rates of urbanisation, and discrimination and marginalisation, are all big challenges to achieving the goal of delivering safe drinking water and sanitation for all.

Addressing these challenges requires enhanced water policy and management approaches, increased investments through funding and capacity support, the application of innovative and cost-effective water supply and sanitation technology, and an improved focus on the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised.

We need to improve water and sanitation planning for urban settings but also to close the gap in the level of access between urban and rural populations, particularly in remote and indigenous communities.

We need to expand rainwater catchment and storage to communities in need, and to empower communities to action their own local water and sanitation initiatives.

We need to do more to support integrated water resource management systems, including safe waste disposal, and water sharing arrangements.

And without delay, we need to address the disproportionate impact that poor water and sanitation access has on health, education and economic opportunities for women and young girls, and people with disabilities.

In conclusion Mr President

Australians know that water is a precious resource that must be carefully managed.
We will continue to give priority to helping meet the challenges that impede access to safe drinking water and sanitation for so many hundreds of millions of people. And we will continue to participate in vital debates such as this one today.

Thank you, Mr President.

Last Updated: 16 June 2015
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