Thursday, 21 August 2014 7:32 AM

Water and Sanitation a Critical Development Issue for the Pacific

Tuesday 19 August 2014, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) headquarters, Noumea, New Caledonia – Water and sanitation are among the key challenges facing the Pacific Island region and will be a focus for discussion at the upcoming Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa, 1?4 September.

According to Mike Petterson, Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Applied Geoscience and Technology Division, all Pacific SIDS have made some progress in water and sanitation but not enough.

‘Many of these efforts are not keeping up with population growth, meaning the region as a whole is actually going backwards compared to the rest of the world,’ said Professor Petterson. ‘SPC is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to assess progress against the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation. For the region as a whole the findings aren’t good.’

UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist, Marc Overmars, said the MDGs aim to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water by 2015. ‘The data we’ve collected with WHO suggest that for the Pacific as a whole, progress towards these targets has been poor compared to neighbouring regions and the world,’ he said.

‘In 2011, only 30% of all people living in Pacific SIDS had access to improved sanitation – a rate similar to that for Sub-Saharan Africa, lower than any other region in the world and significantly lower than other SIDS regions. Similarly, only 53% of the region’s population had access to improved drinking water supplies, again lagging behind other regions.’

The challenge for Pacific SIDS becomes even more difficult when considering the proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for universal access to safe water and sanitation by 2030. Rhonda Robinson, Deputy Director of SPC’s Water and Sanitation Programme, is concerned at the size of the challenge. ‘Meeting these goals will require a quantum shift in energy and resources, particularly in the light of projected increases in population during the target period,’ she said.

‘Pacific SIDS are home to many small, isolated and informal rural and peri-urban communities with minimal access to government and private-sector services. For these communities, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene are primarily managed at the household, village or settlement level. Compared to urban communities, they face real disparities in access to safe water and sanitation.’

Ms Robinson says increased support is required to better equip small communities and households to establish, operate and maintain appropriate facilities, while also maintaining safe drinking water and hygiene practices in homes and schools.

To facilitate progress towards safe and sustainable water and sanitation, SPC has registered three existing and two proposed partnerships for consideration at the SIDS Conference.

‘SPC already works closely with its member countries and partners to demonstrate the benefits of integrated and sustainable water and sanitation solutions. However, the magnitude of the issue requires collaboration, guidance and increased efforts by many partners,’ says Professor Petterson. ‘This is why SPC is advocating for renewed partnerships to energise and focus efforts to secure the region’s water and sanitation future, including an action-focused Pacific Partnership for Action on Safe Water and Sanitation.’

SPC has joined with UNICEF and WHO to undertake a regional synthesis of water and sanitation data to better guide Pacific SIDS and development partners in tackling the issues. Preliminary results will be shared with delegates as part of the Partnership Dialogue for Water and Sanitation, Food Security and Waste Management at theSIDS Conference.

Source: Secretariat of the Pacific Community