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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1058


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (19:02): You would be aware, Acting Deputy President Fawcett, I am sure—as the vast majority of senators would be—that 19 November was World Toilet Day. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from speaking on that day but I feel I should share with you some of the statistics gathered up by my staff who tell me that Parliament House has 533 toilets. The Lodge only has eight—although with the refurbishments going on that may change.

Whilst we have a rich vein of toilet humour, especially those of us who come from an Anglo-Saxon background, it is not a laughing matter in most of the world. The lack of clean water and the lack of decent loos are really serious problems. About 2½ billion people—about 40 per cent of the world's population—do not have access to decent, hygienic sanitation. Over one billion people do not have access to a toilet of any variety whatsoever. They defecate out in the open and experience the likelihood of harm from other people, in some cases even from wild animals. You can all imagine what it is like having to go to the loo outside in the middle of the night wherever you are, perhaps having to walk some large distance from where you live to defecate. The problems are exacerbated if you are someone with a disability.

In fact, worldwide, contaminated water and poor hygiene kill more people than malaria and HIV and contaminated water is responsible for about 80 per cent of all disease in the developing world. The challenges are particularly difficult in our region, with only sub-Saharan Africa worse off than the Pacific region in the proportion of people without access to decent sanitation. In Papua New Guinea—Australia's closest neighbour—60 per cent of the population live without access to clean water and a staggering 81 per cent do not have access to decent sanitation. Last year alone, WaterAid assisted just over 7,000 people in Papua New Guinea with sanitation services.

I must express my admiration for the organisation WaterAid, which was set up initially by a group of British engineers who saw that whilst there were all manner of wonderful things being done in the international aid area, without the very basics being done about decent water and somewhere to go to the loo, it did not matter how much else we did, we were not going to produce long-term positive health outcomes.

Whilst it might seem quite a simple matter to some of us that you would go to the loo outside, it is not the case at all. It is not just a minor inconvenience; it is a major problem. You often have situations where the place where some people defecate would actually feed into the water supply of that village, so you end up with a cycle of illness and disease that is not understood and is unable to be fixed until it is understood.

Investing in water and sanitation and hygiene is a smart investment; it makes sense to do. I would argue that if we are to look in any way at rearranging the way we go about our foreign aid, I think it is an excellent idea that we should use our national interest as the focus of how we would go about foreign aid. We should ensure that money that goes into water and sanitation is continued. These are basic projects that assist women in particular, who are often the ones who do the work of getting the water and, surprisingly enough, they even assist with the education of young women. Often if there is not a toilet at the school they will stay home while they are menstruating—which means that they miss school one week out of a month. If there is a toilet that is available exclusively for the use of the girls in a school it actually helps with their education. These are not things anyone in Australia, thank goodness, has to consider, but it is a really important part of the way we should be focusing our foreign aid in the future.

WASH—an organisation that promotes water, sanitation and hygiene—points out that for every dollar invested in water, sanitation and hygiene within the Asian area, more than four per cent is returned to the local economy in increased productivity. The figures that have come out of the UN suggest that universal access to clean water and decent sanitation would deliver a minimum global economic benefit of $US170 billion annually and it would also save the lives of about 2,000 children a day worldwide who currently die from preventable diarrhoea. There is all manner of things we could do to assist those children, but it is such a simple thing to have clean water and a toilet that does not infect the water supply.

The other figures that have come out from WASH tell us that we could halve the number of patients in hospitals in developing countries if there were clean water and decent sanitation, because it is diseases caused by the lack of these things that lead to nearly half the hospital admissions. We would also halve the number of cases of global malnutrition of children who are suffering from diarrhoea and therefore never getting a chance to be properly nourished.

When sanitation facilities at girls schools are made available, the attendance of girls goes up by over 11 per cent—which, of course, makes sense. WASH estimates that children worldwide would spend an extra 443 million more days every year at school if there were sanitation and water at the schools. As well, if water were available locally, women and girls would save 40 billion hours a year that they spend annually collecting water. So they would not only get an education but they would also be able to use that education in a productive way to build their own assets and the assets of their family and their village. They would also avoid the dangers that they often face in the long journeys to get water for the family or to find a discreet place to go to the toilet.

I urge everyone in the Senate to keep in mind that water and research into water is a very important part of our aid effort. I was interested that the Australian Disability and Development Consortium earlier this year made the point that they had assisted 150,000 people with disabilities in Asia in the past 12 months with projects that were based on good water and good sanitation. People with disability, of course, would have even greater difficulty in making the journeys that need to be made. So may I commend World Toilet Day, WASH and water aid to the Senate.