- Reseach project
- – Western Pacific
Read the latest updates about the International WaterCentre, as well as contemporary water sector insights, water management news, and conversations with researchers, practitioners and students, from both Australia and abroad.
By Dr Lachlan Guthrie and Thomas Pitts, In support of the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery policy, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has launched the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, developed by Griffith University researchers. The index enables governments, communities, and development organisations to identify risks and prioritise water-related responses in the Indo-Pacific. Supported by the AWP, researchers at Griffith University’s International Water Centre and the School of Medicine have collaborated to develop the innovative Index, drawing on readily available global datasets. Building on the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Water Development Outlook approach, as well as public health risk frameworks, it considers factors that influence a country’s vulnerability to respond to COVID-19 risks from a water security perspective. “The index enables us to identify the points of concern for each country and prioritise the most appropriate water-based interventions to reduce a country’s risk of COVID-19 impacts in the short-term and build long-term resilience,” said Dr Lachlan Guthrie, International Water Centre project leader. He said while the ability of people to wash their hands is vitally important, it was only one of many important water-related factors that influence risk. “We’ve been able to show that water can play a major role in the response to and recovery from COVID-19, not just hygiene which is obviously very important. “In the majority of Pacific countries, for example, they are recording a relatively low number of cases which reflects their ability to delay a COVID-19 outbreak from ‘sparking’. However, when their borders reopen they would be at extremely high risk due to poor access to water and sanitation, and having the highest rates of mortality risk factors in the Asia-Pacific.” Associate Professor Anne Roiko, from the School of Medicine, who led the public health angle of the project said their work on the index highlighted the critical role of water in understanding and dealing with the pandemic. “In our framing of the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, we integrated elements of environmental and public health, biomedical science, economics, engineering, and water, sanitation and hygiene.” Dr Guthrie said their work was a great starting point. “What is exciting, is the potential to collaborate with other researchers and stakeholders and address specific and equally important challenges as we learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and what strategies minimise its impacts.” AWP CEO, Professor Nick Schofield, emphasised Australia’s role in helping its neighbours. “This index is supporting COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery activities across the Indo-Pacific to secure our region’s health, wellbeing and stability in these challenging times.” NOTE: This article was previously posted on Griffith News.
By mid-2021, the International Water Centre’s Dr Regina Souter hopes that many of the communities in the Solomon Islands and Fiji will have better access to safe and secure water, something that will dramatically improve health outcomes. Progress depends not so much on infrastructure as it does on local human capacity and political will, says the WASH and IWM specialist, who applies research and teaching to improve practical water management in the Pacific Islands. One of those research projects is Pacific Community Water Management Plus (PaCWaM+), which is a partnership with Griffith University, the University of South Pacific, and Solomon Islands National University, with the CSO Plan International Australia, Live and Learn Solomon Islands, Habitat for Humanity Australia, and Habitat for Humanity Fiji, as part of the Australian Government’s Water 4 Women Fund. “At the moment, many rural communities are supported to install water systems, but largely left on their own to operate and maintain the systems, including fixing unfamiliar technical problems or rehabilitating systems after disasters,” says Regina. “The PaCWaM+ research aims to identify ways communities can be better supported so that their water systems are more resilient, providing safe drinking water and meeting the needs of all members of the community, so that health and wellbeing are maximised.” There are also difficulties for communities in urban areas in accessing safe water and sanitation. “In Honiara in the Solomon Islands, 30 per cent of the population are living in unplanned settlements and most don’t have piped water services or safe sanitation,” says Regina.