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Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Page: 9276

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (23:27): Yesterday, as you, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, and others in this place would well know, was World Toilet Day. In Australia we are in the luxurious position of being able to snigger at the prospect of a world toilet day. With very few exceptions, all our communities have good sanitation, and that is thanks to world's-best-practice plumbing regulations and to excellent training for the plumbers and drainers of Australia. We are fortunate in this respect, as we are in so many others in Australia.

World Toilet Day is no laughing matter. I am pleased to see that not only you, Madam Acting Deputy President, and others have spoken on this topic in the chamber but that the attitude of the chamber has changed since about three years ago, when it was first raised as an issue. I think we need to thank the representatives of AusAID; WaterAid; WASH Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; many organisations connected with the Millennium Development Goals; and thousands of others who have pushed hard to ensure that sanitation is an issue that got onto the agenda of improving the health of the world.

A hygienic toilet, it could be argued, is one of the most crucial weapons we can have in not only the fight against disease but also the fights against malnutrition, poor education and discrimination. I know that people have been very reluctant to talk about toilets and sanitation in much the same way as death is not a much-discussed subject within our society, but I think we could all be assisted by knowing that during a life span the average person will spend three years of their life using a toilet. That happens irrespective of whether the toilets are the luxurious ensuites that we use in Australia or simply a matter of trying to find a pit or a bush to use.

Two and a half billion people in the world live without proper sanitation. Almost 40 per cent of the world's population does not have a clean or private place to go to the toilet. They have to use fields, streams, rivers, railway lines, canal banks, roadsides, plastic bags, buckets and, if they are lucky, latrines, which are often not as sanitary as they should be. One gram of faeces contains 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 worm eggs. So it is not at all difficult to see why, without proper disposal, human waste can contaminate water and food, and cause disease. According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, the majority of illness in the world is caused by faecal matter. Diarrhoea, in fact, kills more children every year in the world than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Every year about 60 million children are born into homes without access to sanitation. Half the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. So not having a proper toilet is very dangerous. It is a situation that is getting worse.

There are in fact more people in the world without proper sanitation than there were in 1990, yet the benefits of good sanitation are very obvious from a disease perspective and also from figures that have been developed. For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of $9 is returned in increased productivity. And achieving universal safe access to water and sanitation would save 2½ million lives every year.

Sanitation is an issue that is particularly relevant to women. One in three women worldwide do not have access to a toilet—that is about 1.25 billion women and girls who have to defecate out in the open or in makeshift circumstances. The ramifications of this are not simply about having proper sanitation and therefore good health but are also about the struggle to find a toilet. We often hear stories about the struggle that people in developing countries have to find clean water and sources of water. But the issues around finding somewhere to go to the toilet are exactly the same and in some circumstances worse. It has been estimated that every year women and girls spend 98 billion hours trying to find somewhere to go to the toilet. This limits their opportunities to make an income and it limits their opportunity to go to school. The other side of that, which limits education, is that often schools do not have appropriate facilities for girls to use when they are menstruating, so they stay home when they are menstruating and that is a quarter of their educative life that they do not go to school.

The parliamentary briefing in late October, which was hosted by a group you chair, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, the Parliamentary Group on Population Development, heard also about other tragic consequences of not having a safe place to go to the toilet and that is violence. Some women and girls have to walk for very long distances to find somewhere private to go to the toilet. Often they wait and go under the cover of darkness and this makes them vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual assault. I heard stories from women in Papua New Guinea and in the Solomon Islands for whom that violence was a reality. Naturally enough, women tend to be alone and vulnerable when going to the toilet and this makes them likely to be at risk of great problems.

You mentioned Miriam Layton, Madam Acting Deputy President, who spoke about the fact that there are only two public toilets in the town of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands of PNG, which has a population of 40,000 people, so women and girls walk 15 minutes down the road. There was in fact a rape committed there not very long ago of a woman who was simply looking for somewhere to go the toilet.

I had the privilege last year of visiting a couple of slums in Kampala in Uganda to look at the sanitation issues. It is quite difficult to paint the picture of those places. I visited the Action for Positive Change School, which is a school for students with disabilities. Whilst we were there on a Saturday one pupil arrived in his uniform because, clearly, if there were people at the school, then it must have been open for business and he was very keen to come. The girls, too, are now keen to come because, with the assistance of WaterAid, they have built a toilet block that allows the girls some privacy. They have also put in a toilet with a ramp so that students who have physical disabilities can go to the toilet at school. It is hard to comprehend what it must have been like before that toilet block was there. It must have been difficult. The Action for Positive Change School at Mulago is doing a fantastic job to assist.

We also visited a slum community, called Kitumbira, and went to the Immaculate Heart Community School where the students are actually building the school block by block. Some of the school is half built, but it is being done when they have some extra cash. Again, WaterAid, with Australian funding, has built a toilet block there that has improved the situation for the students and for many of the teachers who live on site.

We then walked up a hill through the slum community of Kitumbira and saw a two-year-old girl collecting water in empty two-litre detergent bottles to take home to her mother. That water was from a water source that was known to be polluted. In that community most people could not afford to pay for the reticulated water that the government provided. We also saw a toilet block that had been built by the President of Uganda just before the election. Unfortunately, two years down the track, there were still padlocks on the doors of that toilet block, so people were left with a makeshift and dangerous situation. We must do more to assist in developing good sanitation.