Water management takes centre stage for Pacific Islands

05 August 2010 | News story

The availability of freshwater is important to the quality of life, and it is critical to the economic development of every country” was the opening message from the President of Palau, His Excellency Johnson Toribiong, in his speech to the Steering Committee meeting of the Pacific Integrated Water Resource Management Programme.

With 12 Pacific Countries represented, the Palau President reminded delegates at the meeting that water is one resource we cannot take for granted. Due to their small size and lack of natural storage, water resources are already fragile and scarce on most Pacific islands. Growing pressure from competing land use, exposure to natural hazards, and increased climate variability has increased water resources’ vulnerability. In many Pacific countries, even small variations in water supply can have a significant impact on health, quality of life and economic development.

As a partner in the Regional Pacific Programme, IUCN’s water programme was involved in the meeting and participated as part of the Regional Technical Advisory Group. "This type of regional fora provides us with a great opportunity to talk to member countries and to discuss water problems with Pacific Countries as we try and identify solutions together" said Dr. Milika Sobey, IUCN Water Coordinator for Oceania.

Marc Wilson, Regional Manager of the GEF IWRM Project, co-financing the Pacific Programme said it was appropriate that the meeting was being held in Koror, the main island of the Republic of Palau, where water availability and wastewater management is an acknowledged constraint to development.
The Pacific region’s access to improved drinking water and sanitation lags far behind the rest of the world. About 46% of Pacific populations have access to improved drinking water, compared to the global average of 87%. Similarly, only 48% of Pacific populations have access to improved sanitation facilities, compared to 62% globally.

Pollution and water mismanagement affects both surface and groundwater systems, and the forests, mangroves, reefs and offshore waters around islands. Protecting and managing water resources better, helps improve the ecosystem services from ridge to reef in such small and fragile island environments.

Dr. Milika Sobey was interviewed on a local radio station, The Voice of Palau, about bottled water company Fiji Water, and the water management situation in Fiji, her home country. Despite regular rainfall and regular flooding, Fiji does have water shortages due to the effects of the El Nino Southern Oscillation which affects rainfall patterns. Another major challenge is also old infrastructure which is often unable to cope with the demand of a growing population and expanding towns and cities.

IUCN was also invited to speak at a televised debate for a local current affairs programme on the topic of water resources in the region. It provided the opportunity for Dr. Sobey to highlight the work the IUCN Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) is doing with IUCN Member, the University of the South Pacific, on Kadavu Island in Fiji. The Kadavu project works with local communities to help identify water catchment management challenges, and ways to overcome these which will result in better quantity and quality for water, both in streams and the coastal areas.

The meeting took place in Koror, Palau, from 19-23 July 2010. The Pacific Islands Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) is the GEF Executing Agency for the Pacific IWRM Programme which is funded by both the GEF and the EU Water Facility IWRM Planning Programme.

For more information, please contact Dr. Milika Sobey: milika.sobey@iucn.org