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Speech: World Toilet Day

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 19 Nov 2012

Adjournment speech, Monday 19 November 2012

Read part one of this speech on the Mekong River dam.

On another issue, today is World Toilet Day, a day set aside to recognise the importance of the humble toilet. This is something most of us take for granted here in Australia, but in many parts of the world a basic toilet facility is a luxury. World Toilet Day gives us an opportunity to remember that there is a global sanitation crisis affecting more than 2.5 billion people around the world.

Back in March I acknowledged World Water Day in this Senate, celebrating the fact that the UN Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water had been met. Two billion people have gained access to clean drinking water since 1990, and that has done a lot of good in low-income countries. But things are not so good when we look at sanitation. Progress in this area has stalled. In my speech in March I noted that the Millennium Development Goal target for sanitation would not be met. The goal aimed to halve the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation by 2015. According to the World Health Organisation's and UNICEF's Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, the millennium development target will not be met until 2049, based on current rates of progress.

This will bring dire consequences for those who do not have access to toilet facilities. One of the most obvious problems is disease. Around 3,000 children die every day from water, sanitation and hygiene related causes, with diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia, worms and trachoma rife in many low-income regions. These are diseases that are easily avoidable when basic sanitation standards are met. This year the international aid organisation WaterAid has drawn attention to specific dangers faced by women who do not have access to safe sanitation. I thank them for the good work they do in spotlighting issues like these. Right now, more than one in three women in the world lack access to safe sanitation—that is 1.25 billion women. Over half a billion of these women have no choice but to go to the toilet out in the open. This is obviously something that brings significant shame and embarrassment which is, in itself, a serious problem that has a significant impact on their happiness and human dignity. It also puts them at risk of disease, harassment and even attack.

Many women have shared their personal stories of long, dangerous journeys to find a suitable outdoor space to use as a toilet, searching for a place that is private but also safe. Eighteen-year-old Sandimhia Renato from Mozambique walks 15 minutes each day to find privacy in the bush outside her town. The trip takes her across a bridge—a precarious structure from which a number of people in her community have fallen to their death. She says:

I come here once a day, between 4 pm and 5 pm. At night it is very dangerous. People get killed. A woman and a boy were killed with knives. One woman I know of has been raped.

While whole communities are affected by a lack of toilets and amenities, women are most affected because of these external dangers and because of the specific sanitation needs that women have.

Representatives of Micah came to Canberra last year to talk about their water, sanitation and hygiene program, referred to as the WASH program. They brought with them a very large toilet—one of the most spectacular props parliament has ever seen. Micah are continuing their work with the Give Poverty the Flush campaign. The Greens support Micah's call for the Australian government to urgently increase its investment in water, sanitation and hygiene to $500 million annually by 2015. This is Australia's fair share of the cost of meeting the sanitation and water MDG target. Further, the Australian government should ensure at least half of this $500 million is directed to sanitation, because more people live without decent sanitation than without safe water. The key to achieving these objectives is a timetable commitment to increase the foreign aid budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2020. I congratulate Micah for all their work in this area.

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