By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Maintaining access to safe drinking water is a huge challenge besetting Pacific island communities, a situation that will be exacerbated by population growth, migration, natural disasters and climate change, according to Pacific Community (SPC).
"Data shows 45 percent of people across the region do not have access to basic drinking water facilities 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," SPC said.
SPC issued the statement today in observance of World Water Day that underscores the critical importance of groundwater.
SPC noted that traditionally, many communities in the Pacific have relied on a fresh water from 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," SPC said.
Over the years, several communities have boosted their groundwater supply, using tanks to capture and store rainwater collected from roofs. These facilities, however, are vulnerable to natural disasters.
"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," SPC said.
"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," SPC added.
Through its Disaster and Community Resilience Program, SPC assists Pacific countries and territories in ensuring access to reliable groundwater sources for communities.
SPC's most recent project was the installation of a groundwater system in Yaro Village, in a remote part of Fiji’s Northern Division, in partnership with Fiji’s Mineral Resources Department.
"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," SPC said.
SPC said prior to the installation of the infrastructure in the village of Yaro, water was rationed to residents twice a week.
“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," SPC quoted Kemeli Lautiki, the Turaga ni Koro (village headman), as saying.
"Secondly, our children were always late for school because we would have to fetch water from the well and bring it back to prepare for school. Now all that’s changed,” Lautiki said.
He said the water system has also eased the burden on families. Women and children no longer have to hike up to the well and bring water back into the village for bathing and drinking.
“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,” Lautiki said.