- Reseach project
- – Western Pacific
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.
Unsafe sanitation is a major contributor to health problems, not only for households that don’t have a safe way to manage their waste, but for the people and communities living around them. United Nations figures show that globally 701 million people still practice open defecation.
“We have been working with the water utility, Solomon Water, to identify different types of water and sanitation services that might suit the urban informal settlements,” says Regina.
“The utility has already started to improve access to water services by expanding their water networks and offering some flexibility in payments. We are hoping, next year, to make progress towards the big challenge of safe sanitation.”
It is a partnership approach to complex water management issues that is key to the long-term realisation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6—availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, she believes.
“We need to shift our focus from just providing infrastructure with short-term training, to working in partnership with local academics, governments, utilities and civil society organisations to strengthen local capacity for solving complex water problems.”
In addition to focusing on research partnerships, Regina’s wish list includes a 10-year investment in partnerships with Pacific education and training institutions to drive local capacity building, which she believes is vital to achieving SDG6 in the Pacific Islands.
To find out more about the Pacific Community Water Management Plus project , visit the PaCWaM+ page.
About the author: Helen Hawkes writes as a correspondent for the International WaterCentre, charged with exploring water challenges and the ways these challenges are managed around the world.