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Julie Bishop: 'This is what our foreign aid budget buys.'

Water is not just about thirst and sanitation. It is about opportunity, as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop writes in her fortnightly Mamamia column today.

Recently I spoke at the 40th Anniversary of Australian Aid and was asked to select a photograph from the accompanying exhibition that encapsulated our aid program.

It was not an easy task – going through 40 years of photographs!

The image I chose from hundreds of possibilities was of children delighting in clean safe water in Timor-Leste. The picture spoke volumes about empowering families and the impact that Australian aid has had in delivering clean water and sanitation to our region.

julie bishop clean water
Julie’s chosen photo. Source: WaterAid/Matthew Abbott.

In Australia, drinking a glass of clean water, washing our fruit and vegetables and having a shower are acts that we take for granted.

The impact of lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation is perhaps greatest on women and girls.

It is estimated that women and girls in developing countries spend 200 million hours every day carrying water.

For women in many regions, the mere act of collecting clean water for their families can consume up to 25 per cent of their day.

Related content: Julie Bishop on why young Australian women are becoming radicalised.

In developing Asia, women and children walk an average of six kilometres a day for water.

Poor sanitation can have a long-term impact on women’s health, education, livelihoods and safety.

To coincide with World Water Day last week, Unilever and non-government organisations – Water Aid, Oxfam and Nextdrop – launched “Water for Women” – a report which explores the link between access to clean water and development and how that can seriously impede development.

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In Australia, drinking a glass of clean water, washing our fruit and vegetables and having a shower are acts that we take for granted.

Time spent collecting water results in significant economic loss for our region and is a waste of the potential contribution of these women to development and growth.

The report notes “[water is] not just about thirst and sanitation, it is about opportunity. Without access to clean water, the world’s poorest people will stay poor…and at every stage of life, the absence of safe water robs women of opportunity and even life itself”.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop: “Access to clean water and safe sanitation has the potential to transform the lives of women and girls.”

Australia is working with a range of partners to support programs that increase access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the Indo-Pacific region – to ensure women and girls can use their time to go to work, to go to school, to start businesses and care for their families in healthy and safe ways.

Related content: Julie Bishop’s powerful plea for the Bali Nine duo’s lives.

Our aid recognises that simple solutions to fundamental problems can have a far-reaching impact given Australia’s expertise in water management and the power of business to apply that expertise and get things done.

With Government funding, WaterAid is piloting an innovative data collection analysis system that brings mobile phone technology into the homes of families in Timor-Leste.

In developing Asia, women and children walk an average of 6 kilometres a day for water.

This is a cost-effective, smart approach to capture accurate information about people’s habits so that we can devise better services for them – to make sure they have access to clean water and sanitation.

In PNG, we are funding hygiene education programs and research, working with our partners at WaterAid and at the International Water Centre to improve conditions in the rural and remote areas of the provinces.

Extended fresh water supply to the Simbu Province has meant children are no longer falling ill from contaminated water; houses are clean; there is water to drink at the schools; girls feel comfortable going to school; and people with disabilities have water nearby.

Related content: At the age of 21 she wanted to help the 900 million people who don’t have access to safe water.

Similar basic infrastructure and hygiene practice education is also being conducted across Timor-Leste.

Women’s involvement in the design and operation of community-managed water supply systems has also led to improved water security and greater efficiency.

The involvement of one woman in a water management committee can challenge social norms. It is an opportunity for women to act as leaders – a stepping stone for their participation in roles in local and national government.

Access to clean water and safe sanitation has the potential to transform the lives of women and girls and underpins stronger and more prosperous communities.

Is access to clean water the most pressing problem facing developing nations?

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