Water Journal : Water Journal July 2012
refereed paper public health water JULY 2012 75 of the (world's) population without sustainable access to safe drinking-water" had been achieved five years ahead of schedule. Of course, to most Australians the concept of resorting to unsafe or unimproved water sources is a foreign one. Indeed, when examining the JMP Report one will discover that 100% of Australians have enjoyed access to 'improved' water and sanitation services since the monitoring program began in 1990. Certainly, when one rounds up the decimal point this is correct. However, this aggregated number conceals a proportion of the Indigenous Australian population who, at last count, lacked access to improved water and sanitation infrastructure. The most recent enumeration of discrete Indigenous communities in 2006 revealed there are still communities in the NT with no organised water supply or system for excreta disposal, and several hundreds of people living in dwellings that lack water connections or on-site sanitation facilities. These infrastructure shortfalls are to be found almost exclusively in small homeland communities. From the late 1970s the abysmal water and sanitation conditions in remote Indigenous communities became an issue of national importance. Water was scarce, distances to public taps were substantial and latrines were filthy or non-existent. There was little doubt infrastructure deficiencies inhibited personal hygiene practices. In Yuendumu the water supply was "grossly underprovided to meet adequate standards of hygiene". Likewise, Walker reported Central Australian outstations being restricted to just two litres per person per day (l/p/d), while residents of Mpweringe relied on rusting drums for 14 l/p/d. Indeed, the establishment of many isolated homeland communities in arid regions posed unprecedented service delivery challenges -- in 1983 a third of homeland communities relied on carted water, with 5% hauling water from sources more than five kilometres away. By the 1990s a technocratic approach to remote water supply challenges was supplanted by the rise of the Indigenous rights paradigm, which placed a greater emphasis on the social and political dimensions of service delivery. The 1994 report by the Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner upped the political ante when it recast water supply and sanitation services as fundamental human rights, well before any international articulation of the right to water and the UN's landmark General Comment 15. This heightened political priority translated into action on the ground. Longitudinal analysis of 13 surveys and enumerations demonstrates significant infrastructure advances were made throughout the 1980s and 1990s (Figure 10). In the 25 years from 1981 more than 430 individual communities gained access to improved water and sanitation infrastructure. Although there is still a disparity relative to the general Australian population that demands redress, the most recent statistical snapshot is far superior to global benchmarks. In 2006, 1% lived in Indigenous communities without an improved water supply, up to 6% lived in dwellings not connected to a water supply, and up to 6% were without improved sanitation facilities. This compares to worldwide averages of 11%, 47% and 38% respectively. Although on some measures the absolute gains appear modest, when evaluating the progress made one must take into account the unique geographic and economic challenges associated with delivering water and sanitation services in remote NT. The number of Indigenous dwellings connected to water and sanitation systems between 1981 and 2006 sums to around 4,500 -- little more than the number of piped connections the Australian Government recently funded in a single small town project in Mozambique. The key difference, of course, is that in remote NT, these dwellings are sparsely scattered across a land mass more than five times larger than the United Kingdom -- a Figure 7. Percentage of NT Indigenous children undergoing CHCs who had scabies: 2007--2009. Figure 8. Hospital separations for scabies (principal diagnosis). Figure 9. Deaths due to intestinal infection in the NT: 1964--2010. Figure 10. Population without access to water and sanitation infrastructure in NT Indigenous communities: 1976--2006.
Water Journal August 2012
Water Journal May 2012