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Pacific island states team up to harness volcanic aquifers for water solutions

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Suva, Fiji (SPC)– Recognizing the need to tackle critical water management challenges for the region’s growing development needs and rising demand, three Pacific island countries are teaming up to develop an innovative and sustainable solution to ensure access to clean water for their populations.

In the Pacific, groundwater is mostly extracted from shallow coastal aquifers, which are easier to access for those in densely populated coastal areas.

However, groundwater, abundant in volcanic aquifers, remains underutilized and poorly understood. Reliance on volcanic aquifers is likely to increase as rainfall and surface water sources become more variable and less predictable with climate change.

A project funded by the Global Environment Facility, under GEF 7 and implemented in partnership between the Food Agriculture Organization and the Pacific Community, or SPC, is looking at the potential of mostly untapped volcanic aquifers to contribute to the socio-economic development needs of Pacific countries.

The enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific project will be implemented in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

This project aims to demonstrate the potential of developing volcanic aquifers to enhance water and food security, improve climate resilience, sustain ecosystem services and alleviate pressures on over-exploited coastal aquifers.

This will be accomplished by assessing and expanding the role of volcanic aquifers, implementing effective groundwater governance frameworks, addressing priority issues through demonstration pilots, and strengthening institutional capacity.

An important consideration for this project, as stakeholders gather in Suva for the project’s inception workshop, is how the application of holistic and evidence-based approaches is ensured to safeguard sustainability.

Sivendra Michael, permanent secretary for the Fiji Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, emphasized the evolving challenges of water supply management.   

“Our islands have been able to host our societies for centuries due to natural freshwater availability and the natural aquifers that have been important for supporting life on land within the immensity of the Pacific Ocean," Michael said at the opening ceremony.

"Urbanization, population growth, deforestation, unsustainable land and water use, and climate change have changed water dynamics on our islands, and any impact on this critical resource is of concern to our societies,” he added.

He noted that groundwater, although abundant in volcanic islands, is increasingly at risk from contamination and overexploitation.

"It is my hope that this project, which will support important efforts in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands will also help us to share knowledge and best practices between our island nations recognizing the similar challenges and threats we face," Michael said.

Erickson Sammy, acting director general for the Vanuatu Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, highlighted the unique challenges faced by Vanuatu in ensuring water security.

"Despite abundant rainfall, the challenging topography means that perennial streams are rare, with significant watercourses found mainly on the largest islands," Sammy said.

He also emphasized the country's vulnerability to natural disasters. "Vanuatu is notably vulnerable to natural disasters such as droughts, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, and volcanic activity, all of which impact water and food security," Sammy said.

On the topic of tourism and its impact on water resources, Sammy mentioned, "Tourism is a growing sector, supported by the same water resources as the local population. Groundwater plays a crucial role, especially in urban areas, yet comprehensive assessments of these resources remain limited." (SPC)

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