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FEATURED AUSTRALIA: Almost 200,000 citizens don’t have safe drinking water, new report finds – See what is in Your Water ?

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#AceNewsDesk – Almost 200,000 Australians are often forced to drink water containing unsafe levels of uranium, arsenic, nitrates, fluoride and E. coli, according to the peak body for water suppliers.

Water pours out of a tap  into someone's hand in a desert community.
A total of more than 600,000 Australians do not have reliable access to safe or good quality water.(ABC News: Isabella Higgins)none

A further 400,000 people across Australia regularly drink water that fails aesthetic standards, a new Water Services Association of Australia report has found.

Researchers discovered unsafe drinking water in 115 locations, while hundreds more had water that did not meet acceptable aesthetic benchmarks.

Towns and communities in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia returned the worst water quality results, with remote Indigenous communities found to be the most affected by unsafe drinking water. 

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett, who live in Alpurrurulam, 500 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs on the NT-Queensland border, say poor water quality causes a wide range of illnesses and problems. 

“It makes you itchy … and causes kidney problems and makes you sick in the stomach,” Mr Mahoney said.

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett with their grandson Nathan in the remote community of Alpururrulam.
Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett fear for the health of their grandson Nathan. (Supplied: Alpurrurulam Community)none

“People with sensitive skin were treated for scabies, but it wasn’t scabies. Children’s scalps were dry and itching, and lots of calcium on the taps and clogged pipes caused problems.” 

The community recently installed a filtration system which, they said, had helped to improve the water quality, but it did not remove everything and many people still suffered health issues because they had been forced to drink poor quality water for years.

“Before that it was worse,” Ms Corbett said.

“We didn’t know we were drinking no-good water. It made our stomach sick, and … our kids.” 

Ms Corbett said she and her partner had approached governments, the Central Land Council and other funding bodies for a new water bore for the community but progress had been slow.

A calcified shower head
Hard water in remote areas causes plumbing problems and contributes to chronic health issues. (ABC Alice Springs: Steven Schubert)none

“I’m worried because of our kids, their future, the next generation. We need to fix this. We need new water soon, ASAP,” Mr Mahoney said.

“It’s our homeland. We’re there for life and we should have good water.”

600,000 rely on poor quality drinking water

The Water Services Association of Australia report shows 115 locations across remote Australia exceeded safe guidelines at least once in 2018-19, while 408 locations did not meet aesthetic standards, affecting more than 600,000 people. 

More than 40 per cent of all locations surveyed were remote Indigenous communities, the report said.

A sign in Yuelamu about using water wisely
Many remote Indigenous communities struggle with drinking water access, including Yuelamu north-west of Alice Springs. (Supplied: Adam Lovell)none

But association executive director Adam Lovell said the number of locations and breaches of the guidelines actually  could be much higher because there was not enough testing being done. 

“There’s hardly any data to understand what the water quality looks like,” he said.

“When we talk about closing the gap, we don’t know what that gap actually looks like right now.”

Unacceptably high levels of elements like uranium or arsenic could result in long-term chronic health issues, Mr Lovell said, but the most common risk was E. coli. 

“It’s immediate. If a water supply is not being disinfected properly then there’ll be gastrointestinal problems in the house,” he said.

“Over the longer term you’ll see that the chemical impacts build up and build up and build up and they’re the chronic impacts, which are much harder to see immediately and then much harder to treat.”

A man drinks water in a remote Indigenous community.
Adam Lovell tests drinking water in Yuendumu, NT. (Supplied: Adam Lovell)none

‘Blame shifting’ over water quality

Mr Lovell said in Australia’s major cities there were usually hundreds of water samples taken a day, testing for microbial contaminants like E. coli and chemicals.

“Australian drinking water guidelines should be preferably legislated and regulated across all states and territories, which currently it is not,” he said.

Report author Eric Vanweydeveld said there were too many government departments and other organisations involved in service provision for remote communities, which led to blame shifting and inaction. 

Two men stand in a desert community.
Eric Vanweydeveld and Adam Lovell say there’s too much bureaucracy in managing water in remote Indigenous communities. (Supplied: Adam Lovell)none

“If there is a water leak in the street, and you are a member of a remote community and you try to understand ‘who do I need to talk to to fix this leak?’, you will deal with probably seven or 10 different departments,” he said.

The report has recommended that the federal government spend $30 million to establish a national water monitoring program.

“That will help us understand what closing the gap looks like,” Mr Lovell said. 

Steven Porter, from the Northern Territory Power and Water Corporation, said it had been working with the Central Land Council to secure $5.2 million from the National Indigenous Affairs Association to bring two new bores online but there was still a $1 million shortfall. 

“In doing that we can access better sources of water and improve the quality of water for the local community,” he said. 

#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Aug.11: 2022:

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