Griffith University contributed to a global review highlighting the effects of racism, social exclusion and discrimination on achieving universal safe water and sanitation in high-income countries and published in The Lancet Global Health.
Griffith Cities Research Institute and Coauthor Associate Professor Cara Beal said despite Australia being one of the richest per capita countries in the world, clean, reliable water and energy provision in Australia’s First Peoples communities has long been inadequate.
“Australian First Peoples do not enjoy the same level of service for water and energy that the majority of non-Indigenous Australians do, and the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves,” Associate Professor Beal said.
The findings in a recent water industry report released formally by Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney prompted an announcement by the Federal Government to commit $150 million over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure.
“Remote and isolated communities experience water insecurity in ways that are specific to location, climate and culture – it’s not enough to simplify the management of water and energy resources from a city management perspective – we must collaborate with the people who live it and experience it every day,” Associate Professor Beal said.
“In remote areas affected by drought or seasonal insecurity, water is used much differently to urban areas and some communities are experiencing drinking water shut-off periods for most of the day.”
Co-authored by experts from the US, Europe and University of Western Australia, the Lancet Global Health review uses high-income countries, Australia and the UK, as case studies and provides recommendations for public health services.
Griffith research in remote and isolated communities
In previous research, the Griffith team travelled to remote and isolated communities to conduct collaborative research with four communities in the Torres Strait Islands, Cape York and the Northern Territory.
State-of-the-art smart meters were installed in 77 participating homes and discussions were held with a range of community members and stakeholders including councillors, business owners, residents, youth and elders about water usage, habits and impacts of management decisions on daily life.
Research Fellow with the Griffith Climate Action Beacon Dr Melissa Jackson said water use in remote communities is five times higher, sometimes more, per person than the average Southeast Queensland resident.
“The cost of pumping and treating this water via diesel-fueled generators is expensive and unsustainable,” Dr Jackson said.
“We discovered 75% of water in remote communities is used outdoors, often for cultural and family activities.
“Water is used to hose down roads and dirt areas in extreme heat because dry dust is a breathing hazard and some residents hose down their homes to manage temperature in extreme heat.
“Fishing and hunting are important cultural and food activities which were also found to require a lot of water to clean and prepare.
“The importance of considering water and energy together was also highlighted where residents might manage their electricity costs by letting their power cards reach a zero balance until the next pay day – this means no air conditioning, fridge or freezer or hot water during that period, with significant risks to health.
“These water use activities are specific to remote and isolated communities and without their explicit involvement in research, there can be no appropriate solution.”
Developing sustainable management strategies
The team of Griffith researchers and industry and government partners were awarded an Australian Research Council grant of r over $690,000 to advance this work to co-design a digital and community toolbox to assist residents living in remote communities with the sustainable and efficient management of water and energy.
The ‘iKnow, WE know’ toolbox, named to reflect the interaction of Indigenous Environmental, and traditional knowledge and culture around water and energy practices, combined with digital approaches to create practical, culturally appropriate tools that support sustainable, climate resilient water and energy use and management.
Project partner and Director and Founder of Indigenous Technologies, Muruwari woman Cheryl Bailey said the challenge is to find ways to engage communities appropriately using day to day means such as smart phones and Apps.
“By understanding the challenges of life in remote Australia and working closely with locals, we will identify and co-design with local communities some reasonable and realistic ways to reduce non-essential water and energy use,” Ms Bailey said.
“This will include near-real time feedback of water and energy use, community digital notice boards, virtual water stories from community Elders and online leak reporting and repair training and tracking.”
The research ‘The effects of racism, social exclusion, and discrimination on achieving universal safe water and sanitation in high-income countries’ has been published in The Lancet Global Health.