Not only is access to clean water a basic human right, it’s also essential to survival and well-being. “Gapu”, or “water” in Yolngu, plays an important role in health and sanitation in indigenous communities.

Despite this, many indigenous Australians don’t have access to healthy water. Contamination from naturally occurring chemicals, as well as runoffs from farming areas and mining sites can make water unsafe to drink.


Contributing factors

There are several factors that make potable water scarce in indigenous communities.  The remote location of some homeland centres, where there is a lack of proper infrastructure and service delivery is one of them.

Northern Territory government agencies in particular such as the Department of Health and Water Corporation, are known to place restrictions on funding and services to centres that don’t meet the population criteria.The small number of permanent residents often makes it difficult for government agencies to justify the cost of services.

Many communities rely on basic chlorine treatments instead of reverse osmosis, one of the more effective water purification processes for removing trace minerals in drinking water.

Indigenous Australians have also had little to no participation in water policy reform and water management committees. The issue of native title water rights remains unresolved, further limiting their access to water resources. 


The cultural value of water

For the Yolngu, the value of water goes beyond the physical realm. This natural resource is closely tied to history and culture, with Yolngu songs and dances recounting how creation ancestors brought the world to life and laid down the law that would define who the stewards of its lands and waters were.

As such,the Yolngu have a spiritual connection to water. They are culturally obliged by custom and lore to protect sites and natural resources associated with water, having gained traditional wisdom and knowledge from their Elders.


Steps toward change

There have been initiatives to provide clean water to the Yolngu as part of a holistic approach to health and well-being. One of these is the Hope for Health Retreat, a two-week residential health experience that last took place in April 2019.

The retreat was aimed at helping Yolngu participants build practical food skills and nutrition knowledge within the framework of their traditional diet. Volunteer practitioners provided naturopathic consultations, osteopathic treatments, and medical reviews.

WatersCo donated a water filter to ensure that the participants had access to potable water at the site. This donation will be reused in another retreat in June 2019, where dominant culture attendees will sponsor a Yolngu participant in their journey to wellness.  This special event will see the launch of the Together Again Retreat, a collaborative effort between Hope for Health and Helen Padarin, a naturopath and bestselling author.

The Hope for Health Retreat highlights the need for companies to support efforts in making healthy water available to indigenous Australians. Product donations and fund raising activities go a long way in furthering these efforts.

Scott Muir, Managing Director of Waters Co Australia takes great pride in being a part of this initiative.

“Being able to make a difference first hand where we know our contributions are being used by intended recipients and making a genuine difference in their lives and health is of paramount importance”, Scott says.

 “Our regional communities are often so neglected and the Hope for Health is a great grass roots cause to get behind. The team that work both in front of and behind the scenes not only have the right intentions, but also actions.”

Hope for Health is a cross-cultural, experiential education program. Its Strategic Management Committee has partnered with Why Warrior, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to delivering cross-cultural solutions to indigenous communities.

With over 40 years of experience, Why Warrior is made up of Yolngu and Balanda(non-Aboriginal) members who facilitate locally driven projects in Northeast Arnhem Land in NT.

Elcho Island is home to over 3,000 indigenous Australians.  It also goes by Galiwin'ku, the name of the main settlement on the island.   

Clean Water: Basic Human Right for Indigenous Australians