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Aust N Z J Public Health. 2004 Oct;28(5):409-14.

Water supply and sanitation in remote indigenous communities--priorities for health development.

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  • 1Menzies School of Health Research, Institute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory.



To review available national and State/Territory survey data on water supply and sanitation in remote Indigenous Australian communities and to discuss the findings in terms of priorities for health and infrastructure development.


Descriptive analysis of data on relevant variables from available data sources.


All relevant published reports arose from only two data sources: the Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Surveys, and from a Northern Territory-wide survey of community-owned dwellings. The data show that many communities do not have a reliable water supply and experience frequent and prolonged breakdown in sewerage systems. For example, 12% of communities of 50 people or more experienced five or more periods of water restrictions in a one-year period, and 10% of communities experienced sewage overflow or leakage 20 or more times in a one-year period. Items of basic household infrastructure regarded as essential for household hygiene are missing or not functional in many community-owned dwellings. For example, in about one-third of houses bathroom taps and toilet drainage required major repairs.


Given the widely accepted importance of water and sanitation to health, the data support the contention that poor environmental conditions are a major cause of poor health in remote communities and provide some measure at a national level of the magnitude of the problem. Action to ensure easy access to adequate quantities of water and secure sanitation should receive greater priority. There is need for better quality information systems to monitor progress, equity and accountability in the delivery of water and sanitation services.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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