Suva, Monday 22 March,
world focuses its attention on water, the natural resource most vital to life.
World Water Day, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, is
used as an opportunity to highlight critical water issues facing the planet.
This year’s theme, “Clean Water for a Healthy World”, aims to raise global
awareness on the importance of water quality for human health and the
The impacts of recent natural disasters on water quality,
outbreaks of typhoid in Fiji and Samoa, and a cholera epidemic in Papua New
Guinea show that access to clean, safe water continues to be a major issue in
A report on sanitation, hygiene and drinking water in
Pacific island countries by the World Health Organisation and the Pacific
Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC)[i],
found that 6.7 million Pacific Islanders suffer from acute diarrhoea annually, resulting
in 2800 deaths, mostly in children under five.
island countries have uniquely fragile water resources due to their small size,
limited natural storage, competing land use and vulnerability to natural
hazards. Urbanisation, rural development, growing populations, and increased
demand from industry and agriculture is putting further pressure on the
region’s freshwater resources, threatening the long term viability of
communities and islands. Added to all of these issues are the increasing adverse
impacts of climate change.
According to Marc Overmars, Manager of Water and Sanitation
at SOPAC, pollution of freshwater resources, unsafe drinking water supplies and
inadequate sanitation have a significant impact on public health, quality of
life, the environment and economic development.
“While numerous aid organisations, NGOs and governments are
working together on solutions to these problems, only half of the total
population of Pacific island countries are served with any form of improved drinking
water or sanitation,” Mr Overmars said. “There is an urgent need for measures
to be put in place, which ensure people have access to clean water, and that
the Pacific’s limited water resources are managed in a more integrated way.”
Good water quality also sustains healthy ecosystems, which
in turn leads to improved human well-being. Healthy water systems are less
prone to environmental stresses like sedimentation and flooding and provide
numerous environmental services to communities.
Pilot projects that aim to manage water from “ridge to reef”
are being run by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Fiji and Samoa,
and by SOPAC in 14 Pacific island countries through a Global Environment
Facility (GEF) funded Integrated Water Resources Management project. These
projects aim to put in place systems that ensure water resources are shared and
sustainably managed in a way that meets the requirements of people,
agriculture, industry and the environment.
Milika Sobey, Water Programme Coordinator at IUCN believes
that strengthening and protecting key ecosystems is vital to ensure good water
quality over the long term. “Doing things like protecting or rehabilitating forests in
catchment areas, protecting mangroves, and restoring river ecosystems increases
water quality and ecosystem services in ways that benefit everyone,” Dr Sobey
said. “Without these ecosystems in place, rivers are more prone to
sedimentation and flooding, there is increased environmental stress, and people
As part of this year’s World Water Day activities SOPAC and
Live and Learn Environment Education, with funding from Taiwan ROC, put
together water quality awareness packs to help school children and communities
better understand how they can improve water quality by protecting and managing
water and water ways. These packs will be sent to all Pacific island countries.
NOTE: World Water Day in Fiji was postponed due to Hurricane
Tomas and will instead be celebrated on Friday, March 26.
[i] WHO & SOPAC (2008). Sanitation, hygiene and drinking-water in the Pacific island countries: Converting commitment into action. Manila:
WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.