The Australian indigenous communities have been struggling for access to safe drinking water. Recent news articles show that many of their communities are dealing with several issues, such as their remote location and no water filtration systems, which prevent them from having safe water and essential power.
Several research and discussions reveal that there has been water and farming contamination within the indigenous areas. The residents have voiced concerns about their health safety and having no alternatives to replace the contaminated water.
In 2017, a water bore test was conducted at Katherine’s RAAF Base, NT. The test showed the high levels of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (Pfas) in the soil and water. The Defence supplied water bottles for the 50 houses near the area. According to an Indigenous custodian, the findings prompted the residents to stop harvesting berries or fish from the river. The residents felt that their concerns weren’t acknowledged even though they have asked for resolutions.
A traditional owner from Kimberly, WA, claimed that the water is polluted with nitrates. The chemical levels are at unsafe levels for pregnant women and babies under three months. The entire community of 150 people had to share one water tap to have drinking and cooking water. In fact, a report from Western Australian (WA) Auditor-General in 2015 had findings that many communities have unsafe levels of nitrates and uranium.
The communities in Borroloola, NT, were informed by a nearby zinc mine that the McArthur River was contaminated with lead and manganese. According to the community representatives, the mining company advised them not to drink the water but then claimed that it was safe and the chemical contaminants came from the pipes and not the mine. A regulatory group found that the fish aren’t safe for consumption due to lead from the mine. The residents have long been struggling with access to safe water.
The Environmental Impact Statement from McArthur River Mining Pty. Ltd. reveals that the chemical levels of sulfate, zinc, and lead exceed their trigger value. Media statements from the authorities claim that the levels are safe, but the residents don’t trust them.
The Current State of Resolutions
Finding resolutions for remote communities is a challenge. Many factors come into play when devising a plan to tackle the issue. Different treatments are applied depending on various water quality like water types, water cleanliness, treatment cost, weather extremities, and the skills of water plant operators.
Government agencies and water utilities acknowledge that there is no single solution in providing access to safe water for different communities. There have been different water operations that are designed according to local contexts.
Queensland Health’s initial treatment operation in the Outer Torres Strait Islands was successful. The treatment lessened the microbial contamination of the water by focusing on developing the skills of local staff for treatment operations. The operation ensured a technological upgrade and collaboration among the government agencies to disinfect the water.
There are also simpler technological approaches that can be applied locally. Uriah Daisybell, an Indigenous teenager and recipient of Young Scientist of the Year of Science Teachers’ Association WA, created a method for water treatment. The treatment involved the combination of burned shells and magnets that results in a charcoal filter. The heavy metals in the tested water were lowered to safe levels.
The geographic location of Australia makes the country prone to human-made contaminations. With its health hazard, there should be a focus on providing access to safe water for remote communities. In some cases, simpler approaches like household water filters work in the long run. Overall, innovations and long-term solutions should be implemented not to compromise the present and future generations.