Progressing inclusive, resilient and sustainable WASH in rural Pacific

A Solomon Islander women elder sits opposite a male researcher from Solomon Islands National University in an outdoor tropical setting in Sumate, Solom Islands. The researcher is smiling and holding a dictaphone in his outretched had towards the woman.

A SINU researcher conducts an interview with a community elder in Sumate, Solomon Islands (IWC / M. Love)


Our thanks to our research partners at The International WaterCentre (IWC) at Griffith University for this project reflection. Together with Plan International, Solomon Islands National University (SINU), Habitat for Humanity and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, IWC recently completed their research project in rural Pacific, Community-Based Water Management: Progressing inclusive, resilient and sustainable WASH outcomes


Where we started


When we started this research project, governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) provided some support to communities for community water management, but this was not ongoing - it was project-based and intensive, and not well-designed to develop enduring capacities in communities.

Engagement with communities was based on the educational model of change, and assumed that the support needed by communities was in understanding what water management tasks they should conduct, and how. It focused on technical aspects of water management, with some attention to governance in terms of the structure of water committees.

Water committees existed in only some communities and were typically short-lived and ineffective. Consequently, rates of access to sustainable, safe and inclusive water services in Solomon Islands and Fiji were inadequate.


The project


The objectives of the research were to:

  • Identify lessons from existing successfully managed community water systems
  • Develop, test and refine approaches and tools that civil society organisations (CSOs) and governments can use to support sustainable, resilient and inclusive rural community water management
  • Contribute constructive, appropriate and effective guidance to Solomon Islands and Fiji Governments’ plans and guidelines regarding community engagement for sustainable water management
  • Strengthen the institutional capabilities within SINU to conduct community-based and applied research and to manage transdisciplinary and international research partnerships
  • Enhance the capacity for USP to conduct WASH-related research in communities.


In Fiji, we conducted stakeholder workshops to share research findings and training on WASH behaviour change and water conservation, and we piloted a water committee backstopping approach with the Water Authority of Fiji. We also undertook research into social networks between communities in catchments and produced promotional videos featuring community members promoting water conservation.

This collaborative and action research partnership led to understanding of the critical need for collective action for sustainable water management. "Water is Everyone's Business" was a common phrase stated by several community participants early in the research. Drawing inspiration from this, we co-developed social marketing based resources designed to motivate collective action. These resources include videos for communities and program facilitators and implementers.

In Solomon Islands, we conducted training for provincial government environmental health/WASH officers in three provinces. We also conducted interviews with faith based organisations (FBOs) to undertand their potential roles in supporting community community water management, in particular, in connecting communities within a catchment.

Additionally, we produced a project video targeting practitioners and government focusing on approaches for improving water management in Fiji and Solomon Islands, and guidance materials for faciltators and practitioners to use in program implementation. 


Four women sit on a woven mat looking at and discussing an aerial photograph of a Fijian village.

Left: Women assess a village water map as part of the research project activities in a Wailotua village in Fiji (IWC / D. Botero)

Where we are now


As a project priority, we played a critical role in connecting local research organisations with regional stakeholders and governments in both Solomon Islands and Fiji, in particular, USP with the Ministry of Health and the Water Authority of Fiji, and SINU with rural and urban WASH sector stakeholders.

The importance of sustainable, active and inclusive water committees and their need for project-based and ongoing support from governments and CSOs, including mentoring, motivating and non-technical support such as with governance and community engagement, is now well-understood.

Community engagement resources are now available to support the strengthening of water committees. Actors have access to an evidence-based Compendium of Community Water Management tools, including a guidance tool on leveraging social networks, for governments and CSOs to incorporate into WASH policies and programs.


“Through the research I had the opportunity to work with SINU and this really built my capacity in terms of research. ... through the workshops we were able to build together understandings of WASH and broader water catchment management for communities. In terms of capacity building – especially in terms of bringing research in – I found new learnings with research ethics, approaches, being inclusive. I think for other provincial government staff, this would also build their capacity.”

- CSO staff member, Solomon Islands



Broader WASH sector contributions


At the commencement of the research project there was very limited WASH research capacity at Pacific universities. There was interest to become involved and explore the sector, and a commitment to learn the required research skills to support high quality research. Safeguarding training was a component of the professional development that female researchers in particular found empowering, as well as their broader involvement in the research. Several young researchers have gone on to work in the sector.

While developing WASH research capabilities, research partners were encouraged to engage with the policy and practitioner WASH sector, to further enhance their understanding of sector issues and needs, but also to share their academic knowledge and skills with the WASH sector. This partnership of research organisations has become very strong, enabling effective delivery of the research commitments aswell as ongoing collaboration. 

An unexpected outcome of the research project's engagement with FBOs in Solomon Islands was a request from the Anglican Church of Melanesia for a concept note for their Melanesian-wide Meeting of Bishops in November 2022. This concept note summarised key community water management issues and the findings from the FBO engagements about the potential roles of churches in promoting community water management was tabled at the meeting and very positively received.

Additionally, three abstracts were accepted and subsequently delivered at the 2023 Water and WASH Futures Conference in Brisbane, providing essential training in WASH behaviour change and a workshop on water conservation behaviour change strategies. 


Other knowledge and learning from the project:



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