Clean drinking water is changing lives in PNG


12 Mar 2015 | AU

In her gold Wallabies jersey, 16-year old Vanessa could easily pass for a Newcastle teenager. However, growing up, Vanessa was one of the 748 million people around the world that does not have access to safe water. The problem might seem far away but believe it or not, it is right on our doorstep.

Access to water is a basic human right that is taken for granted by the average Australian, yet for some of our closest neighbours, including Papua New Guinea, it is an everyday battle; one that involves mostly women and young girls walking vast distances to collect enough water to drink, cook and bathe in.

Vanessa and her sisters would walk up to eight kilometres a day to collect water every day after school. It took two to three hours to bring back a bucket of water, the path was steep and they would often slip in mud, injuring themselves and losing the water they collected.

The siblings’ daily walk for water was cut short when international development organisation WaterAid and its local partner helped install a basic water supply system and taps throughout her village.

Having access to safe water near her home has been a remarkable change for Vanessa. She can now spend her time like other teenagers her age: devoted to her studies and with her friends, rather than trekking to collect water.

Thankfully, Vanessa’s positive change of circumstance is being repeated many times across the country. Since 2004 WaterAid has helped over 51,000 Papua New Guineans access safe water. Despite the progress being made big challenges remain. Sixty per cent of Papua New Guinea’s seven million people still live without easy access to safe water.

At WaterAid, our vision is a world where everyone has access to safe water by 2030. Delivering lasting water supplies to remote communities in Papua New Guinea is a daunting task. The size and complexity of the challenge means charities cannot address it alone, we also need the investment of time and money from governments.

Papua New Guinea has recently taken a major step in the right direction with the recent passing of their first national water, sanitation and hygiene policy. Thanks to persistent discussions since 2012 between WaterAid, other organisations and the Papua New Guinean government, the leaders of the country have now given domestic political priority to bringing safe water to more people.

Policy change is not an easy feat to achieve. The process was long, and at times frustrating. WaterAid was able to convince the local government of the necessity of addressing water issues and the importance of providing safe water to its people through the exemplary success of Vanessa’s community.

Australian aid supports organisations like WaterAid to deliver solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Aid alone does not solve everything, but it makes an important difference. Well-targeted aid can improve the lives of people like Vanessa, while helping build the ability of governments to deliver essential services to their people.

In the next three years, WaterAid will reach a further 30,000 men, women, girls and boys with a clean water supply, thanks to the Australian government’s aid program. This is the real difference Australian aid can make.

WaterAid urges the Australian government to reconsider the cuts it has announced to the aid budget and to ensure that if any cuts are made, they do not undermine efforts to bring clean, safe water to communities across our region. Such cuts will prevent people like Vanessa from accessing the kind of essential services most Australians take for granted. As a country that understands the importance of water, the Australian government must take the lead to ensure all people in our region are able to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights – access to clean, safe water.

Addressing the global water crisis will require the collective energy and expenditure of governments, the private sector and individuals. We all have a role to play. We’d love you to support our work by joining Walk 4 Water from 16 to 20 March and walking 10,000 steps a day to raise funds for WaterAid in the lead up to World Water Day.

Paul Nichols, Chief Executive WaterAid Australia