Addressing the Water Crisis
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
As someone raised in Western Australia and now living in the ACT, Goal 6 has an unusual mix of meanings for me. Earlier this year, I watched as the Scrivener Dam flooded. Before that, I was in Perth, living on rather severe water restrictions.
The contrast of the two was incredible.
When in New York in September, I met with Australian Consul-General Nick Minchin to discuss the Global Goals Australia Campaign. We compared notes about our time living in New York. One main topic we brought up was the difference in the attitude to water usage. While in Australia it is considered environmentally criminal by social standards to wash pavement instead of sweeping, I could not recall a single time I had seen someone sweep their pavement in New York, even in the middle of summer – everyone washed down the area outside their house.
While we do not live in the water scarcities of Somaliland or face water contamination in the same way Afghanistan does, we still face challenges in Australia. And our main challenge is sustainability.
It is a fact that climate change is affecting rainfall. Some parts of the country have experienced a decrease in rainfall, others an increase. The Bureau of Meteorology predicts further decreases in rainfall over time. While this may not be a serious problem for us today, it will affect the future of our children and our grandchildren in years to come.
One of the worst affected towns in Australia is Broken Hill, a small isolated mining town in New South Wales, near the South Australian border. There have been reports, confirmed by a local GP, that the lack of water and the poor water quality has caused skin irritations among the population.
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has also highlighted the danger of water contamination around Australia. Williamstown, a suburb near Newcastle in New South Wales, is one of over 30 towns which face contamination to their water supply from toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam. These chemicals have been linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and medically diagnosed high cholesterol. The sites of contamination are mostly around airports and air bases.
So how do we address this water crisis – both the lack of water found in certain areas of the country and the unsafe water supplied to certain areas of the country?
We need to invest in innovative infrastructure for water supplies. Sustainable dams and pipelines are key to ensuring water supply for future generations. The desalination plants in Western Australia have been a remarkable success. The Murray-Darling Basin, on the other hand, has not been such a great success, with ongoing political debate still one of the major challenges facing water supply in Australia.
Much of our water is used in agricultural production. This means, if we are able to find more water-efficient solutions for farming and develop sustainable agricultural practices, we will be able to cut down on water consumption, which means that we will be able provide water for addressing other needs.
We must also look at safe and responsible disposal of chemicals and toxic waste to ensure we are not contaminating our water systems.
Our ongoing work with government at a federal, state and local level will ensure the adequate supply of safe, fresh drinking water for all across Australia.