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Published on June 22nd, 2023

Climate Resilient Water Sources in the Pacific

For most people living in developed urban areas, water supply is often taken for granted  – turn on the tap and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet and dirty water goes away. With reliable water services, people do not have to think twice about the infrastructure that brings water to their homes and then safely returns water to the environment.

This is not the case for people in the outer islands and atoll communities of the Pacific who for generations have relied upon groundwater as an important water source. A daily routine of travelling by foot to the nearest community well or creek to collect water for washing, cooking and drinking is a way of life.

In many Pacific Island communities, environmental knowledge has been passed down generations through oral traditions and practical experience. This knowledge has been essential in helping communities cope with natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts.

In the Polynesian Island nation of Tuvalu, communities dig shallow holes in the ground where they can access fresh water. In Micronesia’s Marshall Islands, communities harvest rainwater through holes cut into coconut tree trunks using giant clam shells. The holes collect water inside which people can use for drinking and cooking. A changing climate is, however, bringing new challenges to these Pacific Island communities with increased pressure on their freshwater resources.

The Pacific Community (SPC) has been working alongside Pacific Island countries to develop, manage and protect water resources in ways that combine traditional knowledge with modern science. To assist the SPC to amplify these efforts, USAID Climate Ready, implemented by DT Global, supported the SPC in getting accredited to the Green Climate Fund. As a regional direct access entity, the SPC has since been able to increase its support by bringing more climate finance into the Pacific.

USAID Climate Ready has also partnered with the SPC to prepare project proposals for climate finance organization to strengthen water security across the Pacific. Together, USAID Climate Ready and the SPC developed the successful “Managing Coastal Aquifers Project” for Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Palau that was approved by the Global Environment Facility for US$25million. The aim of the project is to improve the protection and equitable use of coastal aquifers.

Group of people smiling in front of a well in Palau
Well survey in Kayangel, Palau. Photo credit: The Pacific Community

Women, men, boys, and girls all have different needs, access and control when it comes to water. Understanding these different needs, roles and benefits in relation to water resources is an essential step towards developing appropriate, equitable and inclusive management measures.

A key contribution by USAID Climate Ready to the preparation of this project was Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) expertise. A USAID Climate Ready GESI specialist played a leading role in designing, organizing, and conducting stakeholder and community consultations resulting in a GESI Action Plan and Budget that is now guiding gender and social inclusion mainstreaming during project implementation.

Peter Sinclair, the SPC's Water Resource Assessment Coordinator, said the support provided through USAID has allowed the Water Team to extend its application of GESI mainstreaming into all aspects of their technical work, which supports the project’s sustainability.

“Having a GESI action plan really helps. [It] allows us to engage with the community. Since working with these experts that USAID provided, we've lifted our game in terms of the outreach, not just the science part of it which we do but also that it connects with people,” said Sinclair.

Sinclair reflected on the experience working on water security projects. “The success is when you can put water supply into the hands of people – that’s gold at the end of it. Challenges are logistics, it’s hard working around the region, it’s hard engaging with communities at times. We’re learning to get better at that, to make sure that the information that [communities] have along the way starts right from the start so it’s not just turning up and doing the assessment… That has been really important for us, to engage with those communities all the way through. It's critical to ensure that women and vulnerable groups are included in that because ultimately they are the ones who benefit most from that new and improved water supply."

Three women collecting water at a river's edge with green plants surrounding.
Women collecting water for daily use in northwest Santo Island, Vanuatu. Photo credit: Niki Kuautonga).

USAID Climate Ready and the SPC, together with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, also partnered on preparing the proposal for the “Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific” project. The proposal was recently approved by the Global Environment Facility for US$29million. To be implemented in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, it aims to strengthen water and food security, as well as ecosystem services. It will also work to relieve pressure on over-exploited coastal aquifers by assessing and expanding the role of volcanic aquifers and by introducing sound groundwater governance and practices. USAID Climate Ready provided GESI and environment and social safeguards expertise to proposal development, ensuring that the project has strongly embedded equity, inclusion and environmental principles throughout its design.

“I think it has been a great relationship that we’ve had with USAID. It helps us through the financing provided to extend our work and I think as a result, it’s been a really successful model.”

This post was originally published on ClimateLinks.