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Feature image credit: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari

For the last 18 years the Australian water sector has been helping change the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people through their support of WaterAid Australia, a not-for-profit dedicated to improving worldwide access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Australians are blessed with some of the best water services in the world. But right now, 771 million people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water. It’s a frightening statistic, especially considering the population of the whole of Australia is just under 26 million. It is for this very reason that WaterAid Australia exists.

Founded in 2004 in collaboration with the Australian water industry and the international aid sector, WaterAid focuses on providing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.

It works with local partners and governments to introduce safe and sustainable WASH services to these communities, ultimately hoping to reach a point where their support is no longer needed at all.

Sokha washing her hands in front of the thlork vien health centre, Cambodia. Image credit: WaterAid/Remissa Mak.

Work undertaken around the world

WaterAid is guided by a commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which lay out a plan for a better world by 2030. Of the 17 goals, its work specifically relates to Goal six, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

This goal is vital, both in itself and as a key contributor to other goals such as ending poverty, improving nutrition, securing good health, and quality education. The world is still a long way off reaching this goal, and progress so far has been far too slow.

Factors like climate change continue to exacerbate the problem with an increase in extreme weather events like flooding and droughts having a dire effect on WASH access in countries all around the world, including some of Australia’s closest neighbours.

WaterAid Australia fundamentally focuses its work in Papua New Guinea, where more than half of the population lacks access to basic drinking water, Timor-Leste, where more than two thirds of the populations don’t have a handwashing facility at home, and Cambodia, where almost one in four people do not have a decent toilet.

WaterAid has offices and local teams based out of each of these three countries, who work alongside local partner organisations, local and national governments, and communities, to advocate for WASH and ensure projects are undertaken in a contextually considerate way.

WaterAid is a firm believer that its best work is done when led by colleagues and communities in their own countries. While water, sanitation and hygiene are always at the forefront of WaterAid’s work, projects also focus on other critical issues such as climate resilience, gender equality, healthcare, and social inclusion for those living with a disability and other minority groups.

Zelmonia, 8, and Israel, 12, splash water from their new water tap in Dalubo, Timor-Leste. Image credit: WaterAid/Tariq Hawari.

The water sector takes action

Since contributing to the establishment of WaterAid Australia in 2004, the Australian water sector has been both a constant supporter of the charity and an integral part in its ability to undertake life-changing work.

The sector primarily stays involved through memberships. Through an annual donation, the memberships offer organisations a unique opportunity to engage staff, customers and stakeholders, and increase their understanding of the challenges facing communities without access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Through yearly events such as Gala Balls and corporate challenges, members also have access to marketing and networking opportunities with influential players within the sector, as well as meaningful development opportunities for staff.

WaterAid Australia currently has 46 members from across the water sector, and many more sponsors. In addition to the valuable contribution they make to WaterAid Australia financially through donations and fundraising, these organisations also have valuable skills and insights into how to service communities with safe drinking water.

Chief Executive of WaterAid Australia, Rosie Wheen, said WaterAid was founded by the water sector; by people who knew the transformation that happens when people have access to the human right to water and sanitation.

“Those people and organisations continue to make our impact possible. As the impacts of climate change mean vulnerable communities become even more vulnerable, our work becomes more urgent. Having the water industry behind us to respond to these challenges and deliver on our mission is invaluable,”Ms Wheen said.

Managing Director of Yarra Valley Water, Pat McCafferty, has been a supporter of WaterAid Australia since the very beginning. He is a proud Board member, a signatory of the UN Global Compact, and a passionate advocate of the SDGs.

“Being a member of WaterAid provides an opportunity to contribute to the health and wellbeing of current and future generations on a broader scale,” Mr McCafferty said. “It also serves to remind us not to take for granted the role our essential water and sanitation services play in achieving the best result for our community and planet.”

Kids from Yiwun village posing near their tippy tap and newly built VIP toilet. Image credit: WaterAid/Dion Kombeng.

Making a difference within the next generation

WaterAid’s goals for the future are equal parts ambitious and inspiring. A key focus moving forward will be influencing governments, international donors and the private sector to increase funding for WASH, something that will be critical to sustaining and expanding WASH access.

It will continue to put an emphasis on locally-led projects and expertise, while also recognising the huge role its partners in Australia will continue to play. It knows that achieving SDG6 will take a team of diverse players coming together to make a difference.

WaterAid Australia offers a number of varied partnership opportunities to anyone in the utility sector and beyond wishing to get involved. Any interested parties can contact [email protected] for more information on how they can help ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene within the next generation.

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