WASH is 'fundamental' to Australia SDG aims, minister says

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, on gender issues and WASH. Footage courtesy of DFAT.

CANBERRA — Water, sanitation, and hygiene is “fundamental” to Australia’s development assistance and delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific told Devex.

Her comments at the WASH Futures conference in Brisbane, Australia, came as the Australian government announced an extension of a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade the World Health Organization to deliver safe drinking water through the WHO-DFAT Water Quality Partnership.

“When you look at water, sanitation, and hygiene, they are fundamental to our overseas development assistance,” Fierravanti-Wells said in an interview. “Indeed, they are at the heart of our Sustainable Development Goals. If you do not have water, if you do not have sanitation, and if you do not have hygiene, then that is a catalyst for a whole range of other issues.”

Between 2012 and 2017, DFAT invested 15 million Australian dollars ($11.78 million) to the partnership. It has so far supported 15 countries in the Indo-Pacific region through the development of water safety plans to help identify complete water supply system, including hazards and risks, and ways to manage them safety. Water safety plans have been implemented across 882 water systems in the 15 countries, supporting more than 35 million people.

The new announcement sees the Australian government investing an additional AU$5 million over five years, and narrowing the focus to four countries — Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.

While the financial investment and geographic focus is a reduction in Australia’s previous contribution, the partnership has still been maintained in an era of a reduced Australian aid budget. Here, Devex delves into what makes this program and partnership project a valuable investment to Australia.

Deliverables of the partnership

Previous Australian aid funding to the Water Quality Partnership supported phases two and three. Phases one and two began the process of building plans and momentum for them in countries being supported. Phase three had a strong focus on creating sustainability through capacity building and encouraging strong local ownership with the water safety plans.

The new funding extends the work of phase three — including capacity building — to specifically deliver water safety, good drinking water, and good sanitation services.

A gender focus was also introduced in phase three, which will be expanded upon in line with Australia’s aid priorities. Australia has a target of 80 percent of its aid to have a gender focus and last year they achieved 78 percent.

“Women are at the heart of what we do, and are the heart of what we do in the Pacific, and [it] will be important to see gender and gender issues — women and girls — at the forefront of the work we do with the World Health Organization,” Fierravanti-Wells said.

But Fierravanti-Wells said the ability to make an impact on vulnerable populations is the most important deliverable.

“We have to think about the fact that 1,000 children a day die from preventable diseases caused by lack of clean water and sanitation,” she said. “Two billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. And about 4.5 billion people around the world do not have access to or are affected by lack of proper sanitation services. So therefore what we do in our region, and what we do with the World Health Organization, will feed into these important objectives.”

Building and maintaining partnerships

The notion of partnerships is important in the Australian aid program today, including encouraging partnerships with foreign governments, NGOs, research institutes, and the private sector. And building and maintaining partnerships is important to the Australian government in continuing this partnership, according to Fierravanti-Wells.

The Water Quality Partnership allows Australia to work closely with recipient countries in the region to strengthen partnership and deliver safe drinking water. But it also allows DFAT and WHO to share knowledge and capability — and continue to build and maintain their relationship. Fierravanti-Wells said the partnership is complementary to the work WHO does, allowing DFAT to gain knowledge from them. And Australia can share their expertise in water management, having had to manage water in a dry climate.

But the partnership between DFAT and WHO has had to evolve to make the Water Quality Partnership more effective in its use of funds.

An Australian aid evaluation report released in 2014 identified high administration costs of the program due to dual administration both at WHO headquarters and from the Australian side within a South East Asia program hub. In 2012, program administration accounted for approximately 23 percent of total expenditure.

“The reason these four countries — Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam — have been chosen is that there is a particularly strong World Health Organization structure in those countries,” Fierravanti-Wells said

And by building the new phase of the project around countries with a strong WHO presence, duplication in administration is prevented and each partner can focus on their strengths.

The importance of WASH in Australian aid

According to Fierravanti-Wells, WASH programs “wash through” all aspects of Australian aid deliverables, making it essential to their work. She identified humanitarian responses as one of many examples where WASH crossed through other aid priorities as a fundamental area of support — a higher priority than rebuilding.

Beyond the Water Quality Partnership, Fierravanti-Wells sees Australian aid continuing to invest in, develop, and advance new ways of responding to challenges of water, sanitation, and hygiene. The WASH Futures conference was a way of advancing this objective, with participants from the Indo-Pacific were financially supported by DFAT to attend and discuss challenges, issues, and solutions for the region in WASH.

“This conference itself having drawn people from so many parts of the Indo-Pacific is about generating those ideas,” Fierravanti-Wells said. “And when you look at the work that is going to be done over the conference, it is a very granular way that we approach these WASH issues — and I have absolutely no doubt there will be some absolutely fantastic ideas that come out of these days which we and our partners in this space will be able to capitalize on.”

“I’m putting it out there that new ideas are always welcome,” she added.

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.