Technical experts measure the salinity of groundwater wells on Vaitupu Island in Tuvalu. This month, work begins to build a network of tanks and pipes that will eventually transport clean water from the north of Vaitupu Island to the 1,500 people in the villages of Tumaseu and Asau in the south. Courtesy: Pacific CommunityCANBERRA, Nov. 18 (IPS) – Rural communities on one of the nine islands of the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu await what life will be like when they are first hooked up to clean tap water.
Despite being surrounded by millions of square kilometers of ocean, just over half of the 12 million people who live in the Pacific Islands region have access to clean water, the lowest of any region in the world. In remote island communities in Tuvalu and across the region, the shortage of clean water is a major barrier to disease prevention, lifelong health and development progress.
Pisi Seleganiu, whose family lives in villages on Vaitupu Island, which is about 120 kilometers northwest of Tuvalu’s main Funafuti Atoll, told IPS: “It has a huge impact on their daily lives. The only source is rainwater; The problem is when it gets dry there is no extra water supply. People drive to the other end of the island on a lot of fuel to fetch water and bring it back to the villages. ”
This month, work begins to build a network of tanks and pipes that will eventually transport the groundwater from wells in the north of the island of Vaitupu to the 1,500 people in the villages of Tumaseu and Asau in the south. It is the culmination of years of consultation between the island’s usual leaders and the Pacific Community-based regional development organization based in New Caledonia on traditional knowledge of water resources.
Tuvalu is located in the central Pacific between Kiribati in the northeast and Fiji in the south. Tuvalu’s estimated population of 10,580 lives on low-lying islands. The highest point is 4.6 meters. Surface sources of fresh water are very rare. For example, there are no rivers and the islanders are largely dependent on collecting rainwater for drinking, cooking and hygiene.
“Tuvalu is blessed to have abundant rain every year. Harvesting rainwater with adequate storage is the only sustainable means of maintaining supplies for the population,” Uatea Salesa, Pacific Community project manager for the Vaitupu Water Security Project, told IPS. But he added that in times of drought, even rainwater was not enough.
The atoll nation is very susceptible to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon, an alternating pattern of changes in the water temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean known as El Niño and La Niña, which in turn drive hot and cold atmospheric changes and fluctuating rainfall periods. In 2011, after months of no rain, Tuvalu experienced a severe drought attributed to La Niña. This resulted in the government announcing a state of emergency and freshwater flown into the country from international donors.
Population growth has also put pressure on the country’s water resources. Tuvalu has a total area of only 26 square kilometers and a population density of 408 people per square kilometer, which creates a huge demand for the consumption of a fragile natural resource.
Improving the country’s water security is a high priority for the Tuvalu government. For this purpose, desalination was investigated.
“Desalination was installed to replenish government water supplies on Funafuti Island and some of the northern islands as a backup during periods of low rainfall and drought,” Salesa said. “But desalination is an expensive technology and will not be sustainable if it becomes an alternative source of water supply.”
Staff from Tuvalu’s Public Works Department are conducting geophysical surveys to determine the thickness of the freshwater lens below and determine the potential for groundwater development. Courtesy of Pacific Communit. Soseala Tinilau, Director of the Tuvalu Government’s Department of Environment, told IPS that the challenges of managing and supplying water include the limited capacity of households to store clean water and maintain gutters and gutters Water tanks included.
Dr. On World Water Day on March 22nd this year, Stuart Minchin, Director General of the Pacific Community, emphasized the importance of clean water for life and human beings as well as national development.
“Inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation poses a serious health risk, especially for children, and is a fundamental development constraint for Pacific countries. While access to drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right that many of us take for granted “Right now, more than two-thirds of Pacific islanders are denied rights, especially those in rural areas, informal communities on the fringes of the region’s growing urban areas and on the hundreds of small islands scattered across the Pacific,” Minchin said.
Clean freshwater is currently an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19, but also in reducing the prevalence of water-borne diseases in the Pacific Islands such as diarrhea and cholera, which are deadly diseases to young children. And in an island nation like Tuvalu, which is increasingly linked to the fate of climate change, this is a must for further human settlement.
“Water is a matter of survival for the people of Tuvalu, water is life,” Tinilau told IPS.
And in the Pacific, this is a bigger problem in rural communities, where only 44 percent of people have access to water, compared to 92 percent in cities. In Tumaseu and Asau on Vaitupu Island, villagers whose livelihoods are primarily related to fishing have access to health clinics and sanitation, but life is challenging without a consistently reliable source of water in the communities.
This is about to change now that technical experts from the Pacific community have drawn on the traditional knowledge of village elders of where well water sources were and conducted scientific research in 2014. This led to the fact that the groundwater potential on the island of Vaitupu was first quantified.
“We checked where the location is, the possible locations. We used technology where we passed electrical signals to the ground and then we knew exactly where the water was, what the water level was. It was great to see that the science behind the assessment actually proves the local knowledge, ”Salesa told IPS.
As the elders had said, the most expansive aquifer was in the far north of the island, near the coast. The Island Council then directed successful applications to secure funding from the New Zealand Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the construction of overwater tanks at the well site and pipes to bring water directly to the villages. In Tumaseu and Asau, clean water is expected to be on tap by June 2022.
“It will be very beneficial to implement this project. This will help improve the living conditions of the people in both communities. This will make a huge difference in terms of health issues, ”Seleganiu said, adding that villagers will have more time to do income-making and community development activities without the time-consuming work of moving water by road.
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