Questioned whether Australian aid and expertise can improve the efficiency of water usage and mitigate water shortages in Palestine.
Regarding the AusAID post you have in Ramallah at the moment, I have been speaking with various people and water is obviously a significant issue in the region, both for Israel and for the Palestinian people. I am wondering whether there has been any request from the Palestinian Authority or any investigation on the part of AusAID to use some of Australia’s expertise in that area to channel that through into that region.
Whole interaction with Mr Peter Baxter (Director General, AusAID) and Ms Catherine Walker (First Assistant Director General, Africa, West Asia, Middle East and Humanitarian Division, AusAID) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
Senator FAWCETT: Regarding the AusAID post you have in Ramallah at the moment, I have been speaking with various people and water is obviously a significant issue in the region, both for Israel and for the Palestinian people. Given what you were talking about in Zimbabwe, where there has been a lot of work to assist with that, I note that the US Agency for International Development highlights that not only is there a shortage of water in the region but the water is inefficiently used in Palestine. I am wondering whether there has been any request from the Palestinian Authority or any investigation on the part of AusAID to use some of Australia’s expertise in that area to channel that through into that region.
Mr Baxter: As a general comment before I ask my colleague Catherine Walker to make some remarks, you are right. Globally in the developing world people recognise that we have expertise on water. I talked about some of the things we are doing in Africa. We think water is an area where we are able to add value and make a difference. So we are certainly looking to do more. In the last budget the government announced a major new initiative on water and sanitation—over $400 million, I think—over four years. So we have the funding to do that and, increasingly, it is becoming a feature of our programs. I will ask Catherine to make a comment.
Ms Walker: We have two programs, one with UNICEF and the other with Oxfam, that are specifically addressing improvements to water and sanitation services. But they are based at the community level, so I cannot indicate to you that they are addressing the broader question you have raised about access to water, which is a significant issue in the Palestinian territory.
Senator FAWCETT: My question was not about access, because there are people on far higher pay grades than us who are still recognising that with the two parties there are probably five different views on that. What I specifically addressed was the US Agency for International Development, which recognised that what water was there was being used inefficiently, as well as the issue of sewerage. So it is a case of asking how we can work with what is there and make it more efficient. That is my question—not access.
Ms Walker: Regarding the two programs I mentioned specifically addressing improvements, in the case of UNICEF it is quite a large program looking at improving water and sanitation in schools, particularly for girls. The Oxfam program is specifically looking at improving sewerage. I visited a program Oxfam ran in Gaza that brought sewerage to a whole range of families and improved their quality of life as a result. In a small-scale way, through NGO programs, we are looking at these issues. In a large way, through UNICEF, we are trying to make a difference in schools, particularly in the West Bank. Our support for UNRRA is also helping to address issues of better access and improvements to water and sanitation both in the refugee camps and also in schools and health centres.