A voice for all

26 August 2010 | News story

“Samoa is blessed with fertile soils and abundant nature”, says Yvette Kerslake, “but freshwater resources are getting scarce.” Yvette works as Principal Watershed Officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in Apia, Samoa’s capital. She is part of a team in charge of the rehabilitation and sustainable management of the Togitogiga catchment, a project jointly implemented by MNRE and IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative (WANI).

Located on the eastern Upolu Island, Togitogiga is the main source of water supply for downstream communities and has a unique biodiversity. It is also well known for recreational purposes as part of the Togitogiga National Park. Yvette and her MNRE colleagues responded following community reports that the river, which springs in the national park, had run dry. It was unclear why the river was drying up, whether increased extraction or reduced rainfalls or other reasons were to blame.

“With increasing population and development pressures over the years, the catchment area has become significantly degraded from problems such as soil erosion, sedimentation, and water pollution”, says Yvette. “Now with the support of WANI, the project plan is to create a balance between anthropogenic demands on the catchment and biodiversity conservation.”

Part of this plan is stakeholder consultation. Yvette stresses the importance in Samoan culture of consulting village elders and involving all community members in decisions regarding their watershed management. For this reason the Togitogiga Catchment Coordinating Committee (TCCC) was set up, to monitor progress, facilitate meetings and ensure a transparent and holistic approach.

“Essentially all water catchment users; communities, businesses, public utilities, farmers and the tourism industry, are involved at all phases of the project until its completion date, to ensure project sustainability”, says Yvette, adding that “a local community aware of water management issues and engaged in the decision-making process is at the core of the project.”

The community consultation process has already borne fruit. With many communities actively participating in workshops and meetings, important information relating to environmental changes, water extraction, and current and future needs were gathered. During WANI phase II, the project will focus on implementing the Togitogiga Watershed Management Plan. This will include the promotion of sustainable farming and agricultural management practices, which was the main issue stressed by communities during the consultations.

Yvette is also in charge of the project’s capacity building opportunities, as well as public awareness and educational programmes. She explains how launching the hugely successful ‘Samoan Water is Precious’ TV advertisement, gave her a real boost as results were seen.

“People were using water resources more conscientiously”, she beams, “I am sure with WANI’s support and continued public awareness, we can restore the Togitogiga watershed and protect our precious water resources for future generations.”

For more information contact Yvette Kerslake: yvette.kerslake@mnre.gov.ws