I would like firstly to take the opportunity to associate myself with the speech by Senator Cash about ovarian cancer. It is an area that I have spoken on myself previously in this place, and it is a very important issue. So I thank her for her speech on that.
But tonight I rise to speak on the Micah Challenge, which is a Christian movement that is part of a global campaign to improve society’s understanding of justice issues, to engage with the poor and to reduce poverty. Micah Challenge is focused on contributing to ensure that Australia reaches the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Australia joined with other nations in New York in 2000 for the Millennium Summit, to declare:
We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty …
Since 2004, over 114,000 Australians have taken part in the Micah Challenge to support the MDGs. It is a sign of the generosity of spirit within the Australian community to see so many people committed to helping others. The Micah Challenge campaign has been endorsed by more than 50 agencies, and the movement is lobbying the government to do everything possible to achieve the MDGs by 2015.
I had the opportunity to meet with some members of Micah Challenge while they were visiting Parliament House in September, and I have also met with other members in previous years. The members of the group I met this year were Jeff McKinnon, Robyn McKinnon, Nick McKinnon, Cranston Laycock and Tiarna Jenkins. Robyn also brought with her possibly the youngest member of the Micah Challenge, her six-month-old son, Will. The members of this group are all from my home state of Tasmania, and it is heartening to see Tasmanians working to ease the suffering of others, even though those others are thousands of kilometres away. Tiarna and Cranston are both students at Cressy District High School and are a fine example that anyone, of any age, can help to make a difference. It was obvious that each member of the group was dedicated to the causes they were speaking about. It is wonderful to see our teenagers taking an interest in the wellbeing of others.
Micah Challenge participants make an annual pilgrimage to Canberra, known as Voices for Justice, and in 2011 approximately 230 people travelled to Parliament House to hold meetings with members and senators. They also held a breakfast to further raise awareness on the issues of poverty and social justice. The message from the 2011 Voices for Justice was WaSH, which stands for: access to clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene. WaSH focuses on how clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene contribute to improved child and maternal health, which is related to MDGs 4, 5 and 7. The United Nations General Assembly states:
Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights …
Goal 4 is to reduce child mortality, goal 5 is to improve maternal health and goal 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability.
Globally, progress has been made on all MDGs, but there is still more work to be done. According to this year’s United Nations Millennium Development Goals report, there have been some improvements made in developing regions since 1990. The number of people living in poverty has fallen from 46 per cent to 27 per cent. The number of people suffering from hunger has declined from 30 per cent to 23 per cent. The percentage of people with access to clean water has increased from 72 per cent in 1990 to 84 per cent in 2008. Some parts of the developing world have seen a decrease in figures for people living with diseases such as malaria, polio and HIV-AIDS. But, sadly, each year about 8.1 million children still die, and a large percentage of these deaths are preventable. To put that into context for people listening, that is equivalent to almost a third of Australia’s population. It is a fact that is difficult to appreciate, but it is one we should not and cannot ignore.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 28 per cent of child deaths could be prevented by using the WaSH motto. That is more than two million children who would be saved from death from preventable diseases in a single year. Thousands of mothers would also be saved from preventable infections and inadequate nutrition by using the WaSH motto. Improvements to WaSH can be made at a relatively low cost. The World Bank estimates that WaSH is one of the most cost-effective interventions available. In addition to the health benefits gained from WaSH, there is also a considerable positive impact on the economy. WHO estimates that each dollar invested in WaSH provides a nation’s economy with a return of $8, which is a considerable return to the economy.
Australia is a very fortunate nation, and most of us take clean water and access to a toilet for granted. However, many people are not as lucky as we are. An example of the importance of WaSH is that, in developing countries, almost 15 per cent of child deaths are directly attributed to diarrhoea. That is pretty hard to imagine in Australia, where the rate is almost nil. It is estimated that half of the hospital beds in the developing world are at any one time filled with patients who are ill because of inadequate WaSH. In addition to diarrhoea, malnutrition, intestinal nematode infections—also known as roundworms—the eye disease trachoma and schistosomiasis, an infection caused by using water bodies contaminated with excreta from ill people, are all related to WaSH. Malaria and dengue fever are also related to WaSH.
The application of WaSH could also significantly improve education in undeveloped nations. Two hundred and seventy-two million school days could be gained by meeting the WaSH MDG, which is especially important for girls. The rate of girls staying in school increases when there is access to private toilets, so the lack of these facilities causes some parents to withdraw their child from school for safety and privacy reasons. Children who suffer constant water related illness are often disadvantaged in their study because they may have a high rate of absence or may have trouble concentrating, and therefore leave school early.
Ready access to clean and potable water provides significant improvements to the lives and health of those living in poverty. Lack of adequate water supply and sanitation exposes people with HIV-AIDS to increased risk of infection. HIV infected mothers require clean water to make formula milk so that they do not pass on the infection to their baby. Poor sanitation and drainage contribute to malaria, which claims some 1.3 million lives a year—90 per cent of those lives are children under the age of five. It is important to integrate water and sanitation into national and global strategies for tackling malaria. Investing in drainage and sanitation facilities can reduce the presence of flies and mosquitoes.
According to the United Nations, the net benefit of achieving universal access to sanitation and drinking water is approximately A$180 billion per year. That benefit comes from reduced costs to health care, improved productivity in schools and workplaces, time savings from the reduced need to collect water and people living longer and being healthier. The return through associated improvements in quality of life, reduction of childhood mortality rates and reduction in suffering from water borne diseases is immeasurable.
We are committed to international aid and, through this, to playing a role in improving the health of people in other countries. The Australian government works with the governments and people of developing countries to deliver aid where it is most needed and most effective. In the 2011-12 budget, the Gillard government has focused on improving access to education, better maternal health for women and children, access to water and sanitation, tackling avoidable blindness and eliminating violence against women.
On 5 October 2011, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, launched the Dollar for Dollar initiative, which matches each dollar donated by the public to the Horn of Africa appeals run by 16 AusAID accredited non-government organisations. Under the initiative, every dollar the Australian community donates will be matched by the Australian government. The initiative will continue until 30 November 2011 and allows the Australian community to choose for themselves where their money should go. Each of the non-government organisations involved has a current appeal running and has been accredited by AusAID. Twenty dollars will provide a clean water kit—soap, bucket, and water purification tablets—for a family of five for one month. Fifty dollars can power a borehole pump to supply water to 500 people for four days; under the Dollar for Dollar initiative we can make that 1,000 people for four days. Four hundred and fifty dollars can truck in enough water for 50 refugees for a month; under the initiative we can make that 100 refugees.
Australia’s foreign aid is forecast to increase from 0.33 percent of gross national income in 2011-11 to 0.35 percent of GNI in 2011-12.