SUVA, Fiji—On March 22 each year, Pacific Island countries and territories pause to acknowledge and celebrate the importance of their fresh water resources to sustainable development.
However, with World Water Day on Sunday falling a little over one week since the region experienced a severe cyclone, the thoughts of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and people across the Pacific are with those affected by tropical cyclone Pam.
The cyclone has left thousands with limited or no access to safe drinking water and sanitation, dramatically demonstrating the region’s vulnerability to the water-related impacts of climate variability and climate change.
The extent of the drinking water and sanitation needs for those affected by the cyclone—in particular in Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu—is being determined by their respective governments who are leading the response.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recently estimated that around half the population of the Pacific has access to improved water supplies, while only one-third has access to improved sanitation.
That means, across the region, more than 6.6 million people continue to live without access to safe sanitation and more than 4.5 million people endure potentially unsafe drinking water. Most of these people live in rural areas or remote outer islands, and in growing informal urban settlements.
According to SPC Director General Colin Tukuitonga, addressing this serious development issue is a challenge that requires a fundamental shift in efforts by countries and partners.
“World Water Day is a time for us in the Pacific to acknowledge that water is everybody’s business, and that increased efforts are required at all levels to help secure safe water and sanitation for all, in all conditions,” Tukuitonga said.
Speaking at Fiji’s national World Water Day celebrations in Nadi on Friday, SPC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer Iva Koroisamanunu acknowledged the challenge ahead for families seeking to restore access to safe drinking water and sanitation following cyclone Pam.
“For many Pacific communities, maintaining daily access to safe drinking water and sanitation is already a significant challenge,” Koroisamanunu said. “In the Pacific, the serious impacts of climate variability and natural hazards can make this challenge even more difficult,” she said. (SPC)