Water is everyone's business: Strengthening community-based water management in Solomon Islands

A woman is sitting at a table with a bright and colourful tablecloth making notes on paper while interviewing a man. The woman is an Environmental Health Division Officer and the man is the Village Chief of a rural village in Solomon Islands.

Merilyn Vana from the Environmental Health Department interviews a community member in Labulabu, Solomon Islands  (International WaterCentre / Mark Love)

 

The unique geographic and sociocultural diversity of Melanesia, and the challenges and strengths that such contexts pose for Sustainable Development Goal 6 - Water and sanitation for all - is no more evident than in Western Province, Solomon Islands.

 

Here, a small team of dedicated Environmental Health Division (EHD) and Rural Water Sanitation and Hygiene (RWASH) officers seek to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) situation in hundreds of rural villages spread across 11 islands, taking in 26 wards, in an area covering 5,500km2.

 

The impacts of climate change – as well as logging – are sharply evident, affecting water services and access in hundreds of villages, on a daily basis. Effective community-based water management (CWM) is critical to ensuring climate-resilient, sustainable and inclusive and water services.

 

Water committees often lack sustainability and proactive functioning, and their engagement in broader water resource management is limited. To address these challenges, they require ongoing capacity development, mentoring and motivation.

 

In June-July 2023, the International WaterCentre's (IWC) Dr Mark Love visited Solomon Islands to work alongside research partners from Solomon Islands National University to undertake formative and action research on Provincial-level WASH policy and implementation, as part of their Australian Government funded Water for Women project, Supporting Decentralised Rural Water Supply and Climate Resilience in Pacific Islands. The focus of this research is on the challenges and benefits of WASH decentralisation/devolution – specifically in the context of community-based water management (CWM).

 

The research goal of this trip was both formative and action research focused. Interviews were undertaken with national and provincial government representatives, ward development committee members, and community water committee members, with attention on decentralisation/devolution trends (WASH and non-WASH), especially in relation to the RWASH Strategic Plan. 

 

Additionally, this trip included visits to four villages in Western Province – Kaza, Nusa Roviana, Baini and Labulabu – by Dr Mark Love and Collin Benjamin (SINU), alongside Provincial partners, EHD Senior Health Inspector Merilyn Vana and RWASH Principal Health Inspector John Sele. As part of the action research objectives, EHD ran a Tok Stori engagement process with water committee members and community leaders in each of the four villages. In all but one village (Nusa Roviana) , the viewing of the Water is Everyone’s Business was a centre point of the engagement process.

 

 

Water is Everyone's Business in Solomon Islands (IWC)

 

Co-designed with IWC's Provincial colleagues, the Tok Stori includes a strengths, weaknesses, oppotunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, a priority ranking exercise and a short (and simple) Action Plan. EHD follows up the Action Plans via phone calls with focal points from each village over the following 12 months, after which SINU/IWC conducts on-site monitoring and assessment.

 

The objective of this aspect of the research is to identify more culturally appropriate and effective community engagement approaches that are better attuned to local realities (e.g., geography, learning preferences, governance particulars, historical cultural determinates). The overall goal is to demonstrate and normalise the notion that rural communities need ongoing support to manage their water systems. How, and to what extent, provincial-level government systems and actors can realistically provide such support is a key research question being exploring. Parallel research was also undertaken in Isabel Province in July-August 2023.

 

Water for Women partners with the IWC at Griffith University and local research partners to strengthen active and sustainable water committees in rural Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where WASH services and support systems are being decentralised to varying degrees. This research project is tackling challenges for WASH provision and sustainability posed by government decentralisation/devolution and intensifying climate change hazards, which impact community well-being, livelihoods, and water infrastructure.

 

 

A tap stand in a rural village setting in Papua New Guinea with two timber boats behind it and a blue water tank on a timber table with a bar of soap and nail brush in the foreground.
A tap stand in Labulabu (IWC / Mark Love)

*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate. To see our latest progress towards targets, see our progress.

 

World Water Day is observed annually on 22 March and this year's theme, 'Water for peace', emphasises the importance of working together to balance everyone’s needs, to ensure that no one is left behind in access to clean water and safe sanitation, and to make water a catalyst for a more peaceful future. 

As the lifeblood of any community, when water is scarce, polluted, denied or usage unfairly shared, conflicts can arise or intensify. For women and girls, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups, water insecurity exacerbates inequities and has disproportionate impacts, including on their health and well-being. Water conflict also increases the risk of violence.

Throughout the world, women are at the frontlines of climate change and it's impacts on water security. With primary responsibility for meeting caregiving and household water needs, including for sanitation and hygiene (WASH), women are water experts in their communities.

Every day, women are brokering peace, driving sustainable agriculture for food security, and delivering WASH for the health and well-being of their families and communities. Women and water can lead us out of this crisis. 

But women cannot do it alone. As climate change impacts increase, and populations grow, we must unite to advance gender equality and accelerate progress on SDG6 - Water and sanitation for all. Everyone has a role to play in creating a fairer and more cohesive society

Throughout Asia and the Pacific, Water for Women partners are working with communities, governments, researchers, rights holder organisations, and service providers in 16 countries to deliver climate-resilient and inclusive water and WASH services for all. Together, we are accelerating progress for SDG6 for a water secure and peaceful future for all.

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