Global access to clean water seen as critical to future

Water is the world’s most valuable resource.

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But climate change, poor sanitation and unsustainable water use are threatening global supplies.

And international aid agencies say people need to act now to ensure future access to clean water.

More than 600 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water.

Another 2 billion do not have access to basic sanitation or hygiene.

While some countries use an abundance of clean water, other nations go without.

And UNICEF Australia’s head of international programs, Felicity Wever, says uneven water distribution has devastating results.

“This leads to a situation where, every day, more than 800 children under (age) 5 die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.”

Papua New Guinea has the lowest level of access to clean water in the world.

More than half its population is deprived of safe drinking water.

Water-Aid Australia chief executive Paul Nichols says that limited access to clean water in Papua New Guinea has broad social and political consequences.

“A lot of girls drop out of school as soon as they reach puberty, because their parents and their families are not happy for them to attend school when they’re menstruating.”

He says Water-Aid is urging the Australian government to focus aid efforts on improving clean-water services in the Pacific.

“The Australian government has a really important role in our region to make sure that the health systems and the water systems work effectively for those countries, because it’s directly in our interests.”

But Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations chairman Darren Perry says Australia needs to protect water sources in its own backyard.

Mr Perry says Indigenous water practices have been used to sustain river systems for thousands of years.

“Aboriginal people have lived beside and with, and utilised, waterways in this country for many thousands of generations, and we’ve never over-utilised those resources to the point of where they’re on the verge of collapse.”

He is calling on the government to engage with Indigenous people to implement a sustainable water-basin plan before the rivers run dry.

“We’re going into another really dry period now, and it’s vitally important that we implement the basin plan to ensure that there’s adequate water resources for all and then, number one, the environment.”

International aid agencies are calling for people to act now to ensure equal access to water for years to come.

UNICEF’s Felicity Wever says climate change needs to be addressed as the biggest universal threat to clean water.

“Climate change has the potential to impact water sources everywhere. I mean, we are seeing increased drought and those kinds of climate disasters here in Australia, as well as in our own backyard, so I do think it’s something that we here experience and can be doing a lot to address.”