More than 5million Pacific people don’t have access to basic drinking water: this needs to change

Suva

This World Water Day is about reflecting on the critical importance that groundwater plays in the lives and livelihoods of communities all over the world.  

In the Pacific, too many communities continue to lack access to safe and resilient drinking water. 

Data shows 45 per cent of people across the region do not have access to basic drinking water facilities (JMP report) and research shows the impact of climate change will further exacerbate some of the challenges communities face in accessing water for drinking and household needs

Traditionally, many communities in the Pacific have relied on groundwater – a fresh water source created by rainfall seeping underground and accumulating in the small spaces that exist between particles of sand, soil and rock.  These underground water sources, accessed via wells and springs, have sustained communities for generations, even during periods of low rainfall.  Over time, many communities have complimented their groundwater with other sources of fresh water, such as tanks to capture and store rainwater collected from roofs.    

However, communities across the Pacific now face new challenges in maintaining access to safe drinking water.  The impacts of population growth and movement, disasters and climate change place additional pressure on drinking water systems and can harm fragile water sources that communities rely upon for their daily needs. 

Extreme events such as cyclones, storm surges and wave inundation can cause significant damage to essential water infrastructure such as the guttering, pipes, pumps and tanks needed for communities to access drinking water.  Longer dry periods and droughts also mean communities relying on rainwater, rivers or streams may find it harder to manage their water resources into the future.

 

Groundwater for resilience  

At the Pacific Community, our Disaster and Community Resilience Programme has worked alongside Pacific countries and territories for many years to better understand, manage and access reliable groundwater sources for communities.  

Most recently in Yaro Village, in a remote part of Fiji’s Northern Division, our SPC team worked alongside Fiji’s Mineral Resources Department to locate and install a groundwater system for the community. 

The partnership led to the location of two sites using geophysics to locate groundwater sources.  These sites were then drilled, and a groundwater system was installed to pump fresh, safe and resilient drinking water straight into the community for the first time.  

Kemeli Lautiki the Turaga ni Koro (village headman) of Yaro Village said the changes in the community  have been immense because of the new groundwater system as the village were rationing water twice a week before they were given access to this new water source.

“Some really good changes occurred in the village. First and foremost, the health and general welfare benefit for families who now have access to water.  Secondly, our children were always late to school because we would have to fetch water from the well and bring it back to prepare for school. Now all that’s changed,” he said. 

The water system has also reduced the burden on families with women and children no longer having to hike up to the well and bring water back into the village for bathing and drinking. 

“For the women, access to water is not a burden anymore, they are now able bath at home, and do all their housework at home. The other big change is improved sanitation and hygiene. We used to use pit toilets before but now we have flush toilets, it’s like living in town,” he said.  

Mr Lautiki is confident that when future disaster strikes the community will be able to quickly access fresh and clean drinking water because of this new groundwater system.  

Ensuring water systems and infrastructure are resilient to disaster and climate change is a critical priority for the Pacific region.  

SPC’s senior hydrogeologist, Amini Loco explained why the work of SPC and partners must prioritise climate change and disasters when considering water security for communities.  

“When we talk about resilience we are hoping through all of these interventions that we can put up the systems that are required that could help the communities to withstand the impacts of disasters that could be worse than Cyclone Yasa knowing that water is a human right, it is very important for human survival and having that particular source of life available for disaster is a source of hope even if they are waiting for other help and other assistance for food and other things,” he said. 

Ultimately, the impact that access to water has on the lives and livelihoods of communities is immense. 

Silvia Ditalei is a 29-year-old mother of three kids from Yaro Village and the access to water installed by SPC in partnership with Fiji’s Mineral Resources Department has changed her daily life.  “It has made my life easier. My kids are still small so none of them can carry water for me. The eldest is seven years, the second is five years and the youngest is three years old so I must do it on my own and now I have a tap outside my house. Life is so much easier”.  

To learn more about the importance and work in understanding groundwater resources in the Pacific please visit https://gem.spc.int/projects/PacificGroundwater.

 

Watch: Resilient Groundwater Supports Resilient Pacific Communities: The Story of Yaro Village in Fiji

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