- Research 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.
Access to clean water is seen by many as a fundamental human right, but in some parts of the developing world, women are being forced to pay for it through ‘sextortion’. Pillar Avello, Program Manager for water governance at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), says that the problem is pervasive.
On the way to down town, I always watch the construction companies extracting building materials from the Ntahangwa River, which snakes across Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, and flows into Lake Tanganyika. Workers regularly load their trucks with sand and stones that they’ve extracted from the river, which causes enormous problems for the surrounding residential areas and for the river itself. The Ntahangwa River has been permanently altered as a result of this execration activity. Today, the river flows uncontrolled in all directions. When it rains, the river breaks its bank, flowing into residential areas, destroying everything it encounters on the way. Moreover, the water has lost its quality and is now heavily polluted. Many poor surrounding residents who are not connected to the national water supply system have no choice but to the highly-polluted river water. Roger Niyonzima is a resident of Buyenzi suburb near the Ntahangwa River. “[The] Ntahangwa River has a become a danger for our life, no one can predict where it will pass, especially when it rains,” says Roger. “It enters homes and destroys everything on its passage. Many houses are often destroyed by floods coming from the river and we become displaced in our own homeland.” “The water is no longer ‘life’, as it is often said. This one is poison. I learnt at school that water has no colour, no smell but just look, our water looks like chocolate and it smells bad. We are obliged to use it because we are poor families without access to the clean water supply.”
On an overcast mid-morning in downtown Nairobi, the roads are muddy and trenches strewn with garbage. That same garbage will invariably end up in the Nairobi River, which snakes through the city. In the informal settlements downstream. The river is so polluted with all manner of garbage and industrial effluent. Sometimes dead bodies wash up. Rehabilitation initiatives have yielded minimal success. The capital of 4.3 million people depend on water from the neighbouring Muranga County, while ironically, the permanent Nairobi River is rendered unusable. Standing on a restored riparian patch on the banks of Nairobi River where a dumpsite stood last year, Fred Okinda, a resident of Korogocho recalls his younger days with nostalgia. In the early 1990's he would swim with his friends in the river a short distance from his home. “Every day after school, swimming was our sport and we would come here with friends. The water was so clean,” he said.