Australian Aid needs to focus on access to water in the Pacific

4 min read
Papua New Guinean woman with face tatoos

WaterAid releases ‘Water: At what cost? The State of the World’s Water’ to mark World Water Day 2016

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the most difficult place in the world for household access to clean water, leaving many households no choice but to spend more than half their income on this basic essential, a new WaterAid briefing shows this World Water Day, 22 March.

‘Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water’ examines the most difficult places in the world for people to get clean water and reveals how the world’s poorest often spend far more of their income on water than those in more advanced economies.

At 60% PNG has the greatest percentage of people in the world living without access to safe water. In PNG, an average person in poverty will spend 54% of their salary to access the World Health Organization-recommended minimum 50 litres per day to meet basic needs. In Australia 0.1% of the minimum wage is spent on 50 litres of water and average water usage is 500 litres per person, per day.

Papua New Guinea – Worst in the world for percentage of population without safe water
Image: WaterAid

“With the impending federal election, the release of this report is a reminder that the Australian government has a responsibility to support its nearest Pacific neighbours to gain access to safe water,” said WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Paul Nichols.

“Australian Aid has supported improved water outcomes for poor people across the globe, including in the Pacific, with 2.9 million people globally provided with increased access to water from Australian aid in 2013-14. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded Civil Society WASH Fund, a vital initiative for enhancing sustainable access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, is directly benefiting over 3.5 million people. Australia needs to be building on its success rather than reducing its investment,” said Mr Nichols.

“The last budget saw a A$66.7 million reduction to water, sanitation and hygiene spending in Asia and the Pacific. Australia needs to reverse this decision, and instead make a new long-term commitment to meeting water, sanitation and hygiene needs in its region.”

“Without improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene in PNG, economic growth, gender equity, improved health and nutrition, and resilience to climate change will not be achieved,” said Mr Nichols.

In Papua New Guinea 4.5 million people live without safe water, that’s 60% of the population, and 800 children die each year from diarrhoea.

Worldwide, some 650 million people in the world still do not have access to clean water and more than 2.3 billion do not have access to basic sanitation, with devastating results. Some 315,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal diseases related to the lack of these basic rights. And 50% of malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water, good sanitation and good hygiene including handwashing with soap.

Among the main findings:

  • Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Angola are the nations in the world with the lowest percentage of households with access to clean water
  • India, China and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people waiting for access to clean water
  • Cambodia, Mali, Laos and Ethiopia have made more progress than any other nations on improving access to water for their populations.
  • Despite much progress, the report finds that inequalities persist even in nations that have made great strides, with the poorest often paying the highest percentages of their income on water.
  • There remain 16 countries in the world where 40% or more of their population do not have access to clean water – due to lack of government prioritisation, lack of dedicated funding, shortages in human resources and the exacerbating effects of climate change on water availability and quality combine.
    The cost of water around the world
    Image: WaterAid

On this World Water Day, WaterAid is reminding governments that the promises of the UN Global Goals on Sustainable Development, to eradicate extreme poverty and create a fairer, more sustainable world, includes Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and access to safe, private toilets by 2030. This promise is achievable but it will take a serious political shift and financing to get there.

Link to report:


Kirrily Johns, WaterAid Communications Manager: 03 9001 8246 or [email protected]

About WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone, everywhere has safe water, sanitation and hygiene. The international organisation works in countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit: