The International WaterCentre and Griffith University

COVID-19 Research: [RA01]

Research Focus: Supporting urban food security and livelihoods through improving WASH outcomes for protection against COVID-19 in markets, food and agricultural chains

Location: Vanuatu

Research Theme: WASH Responses to COVID-19

Partners: The University of the South Pacific (School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Oceans, and Natural Sciences) and World Vision Vanuatu

Research Purpose:

Understand the current WASH situation in informal market houses in the context of two urban and one peri-urban area of Vanuatu (Port Vila, Luganville and Lakatoro)

ii) Understand the current WASH situation in a number of key food/agriculture workplaces (select cooperatives and livestock [beef] industry workplaces, e.g. the Lakatoro Butchery)

iii) Map and understand the current WASH situation along the whole food/agriculture supply chain (from garden to market), paying particular attention to issues of gender, social inequalities, and how this intersects with WASH access and services

iv) Assess informal market vendor, market regulator, food/agriculture workplace employee and workplace management for their WASH knowledge, practices, policies and capacities

v) Identify WASH challenges and opportunities for improvement in market houses, food supply chains and workplaces

vi) Build collective understanding amongst key stakeholders of links between WASH, protection against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, urban food security, and livelihoods, in particulate relating to market houses and food supply chains

vii) Facilitate identification by key stakeholders of implementable actions to improve WASH outcomes in these contexts.

viii) Build WASH knowledge, capacity and applied research skills amongst select research partners

Research Description:

With the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, research can also help affirm the crucial role of WASH in preparedness, response and recovery initiatives.

Water for Women partners have played an important role in supporting COVID-19 response and learning across the Indo-Pacific, and are continuing to contribute to the region’s stability, resilience and future prosperity.


Led by International WaterCentre and Griffith University (IWC-GU), this research project will build a shared understanding of WASH-related COVID-19 vulnerabilities experienced by food ‘workers’ and across the food supply chain (from garden to market) in order to improve prevention measures against COVID-19 and other communicable diseases in Vanuatu.


Formal and informal 'workers' are the backbone of food supply chains in Vanuatu, with women making-up the majority of market vendors. These women and their families are dependent on selling produce for their economic wellbeing.


Urban and peri-urban residents are highly reliant on purchasing fresh produce from local markets. These local food supply chains are vulnerable to various COVID-19 induced challenges; logistical (e.g. transport disruptions, social distancing regulations) and health security (e.g. inadequate access to safe and reliable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services).


An inability to access adequate WASH services in these contexts increases vulnerabilities to infection by pathogens such as SARS-cov-2, as well as other communicable diseases. The status of WASH services in local market contexts in Vanuatu are not widely understood.


The International WaterCentre and Griffith University, working in partnership with The University of the South Pacific and World Vision Vanuatu are working to better understand the current WASH situation in markets in Vanuatu, as well as select other food/agriculture business contexts (e.g. cooperatives, livestock-related workplaces).


"We are afraid to come to town and sell at the market, so now we don’t have enough money for soap, rice, salt, and nappies.  My children are no longer going to primary or secondary school [as I now struggle to pay school fees]…We need a better market house with access to good water…"  

41 year old Female market vendor from Valangar, South Santo, Peoples Investment Market, Luganville, Santo


Drawing on surveys and interviews with market vendors and managers as well as government, civil society organisations (CSO's) and agri-business representatives, the project uses a research to policy collaborative approach that draws together stakeholders in a series of workshops to identify WASH challenges and opportunities so government and CSO's can make more informed policy and investment decisions – including awareness outreach campaigns –  that contribute to improving WASH knowledge and services.


In addition to building research capacity and WASH knowledge amongst local partners, the expected outcomes of this research are to fill current gaps in WASH knowledge associated with markets and other short food supply chains in Vanuatu, improve awareness of WASH-related vulnerabilities to COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, and ultimately contribute to both improved protection against COVID-19 infection and economic stability for food workers. This research will benefit the Vanuatu Government, local and extra-local civil society organisations, and industry bodies as well as the market vendors.


"Before covid-19 there were more vendors coming to sell and there was a lot of customers; now there are not. Many vendors come from rural areas and they have little understanding [of COVID-19], so when they heard people were dying [overseas] they stopped coming." 

Mary Willie, Market Manager Freshwota Park, Port Vila, Efate


This transdisciplinary research is a collaboration between Water for Women and lead partners, International WaterCentre and Griffith University as well as The University of the South Pacific (School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Oceans, and Natural Sciences) and World Vision in Vanuatu.


                                         Innovation & Impact                                             


In 2021, this project was awarded an Innovation and Impact grant to further strengthen the use of new evidence, innovation and practice in sustainable and inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and, in doing so, contribute to improved learning and practice globally.

Led by the International WaterCentre and Griffith University, this project is working closely with partners to develop recommendations for integrated and collaborative planning processes for climate-resilient WASH in marginalised urban environments.


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