Water articles are written by ADB staff and external contributors on various water issues, reforms, and good practices.

Water and Islands Balancing Act
August 2005

A new water action plan promises to help small island nations of the Pacific manage their water resources more efficiently
By Jeffry Stubbs BACKGROUND Small island countries require unique approaches to most development issues, including sustainable water management. The limited nature of water resources in most island countries, combined with the shortage of administrative and human resources, constitutes a major challenge. The atoll islands often have no surface water. They must rely on shallow groundwater lenses and rainwater for their water supplies. Some are completely dependent on rainwater harvesting.
Action Plan for Small Island Countries

CHALLENGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE Aside from tourism, small island countries face climatic challenges that strain water resources.

Water Resources Management Strengthen the capacity of small island countries for water resources assessment, monitoring, and management of their vulnerable freshwater resources. Island Vulnerability Apply available information to cope with climate variability and change, and promote hazard assessment and risk management, involving local communities.

Many remote and low-lying islands experience cycles of a few years of heavy rainfall followed by a year or two of drought, when competition between households, tourism, and agriculture pushes the freshwater supply The Commission is owned by 16 Pacific island states and to its limits. These cycles of heavy rainfall followed by has developed extensive global and regional stakeholder networks. SOPAC is implementing targeted interventions drought seem to be becoming increasingly severe. Seawater rise caused by global warming threatens the atolls’ freshwater aquifers. As the seawater rises, the freshwater aquifer, which sits on top of the seawater, becomes thinner. This expected decline in groundwater resources reinforces the need for water conservation, and for reliance on water sources such as rainwater harvesting and, where it is affordable, desalination.

The South Pacific Applied Geo-science Commission (SOPAC) has joined in partnership with ADB to organize the Water in Small Island Countries theme for the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto.

The high volcanic islands have abundant rainfall, but it usually runs off quickly and is often difficult to use effectively. On both Participation, Information, and Education atolls and volcanic islands, water utilities are often ineffective Increase the participation of communities in sustainable water management, make and inefficient. Small island countries are vulnerable to seawater rise, cyclones that bring heavy rains, drought, environmental pollution, watershed depletion, and rapid population growth. Technology In some places, tourism development is being threatened by degradation of the natural environment. Tourism operators require a pristine environment. However, they also require a labor force that may contribute to pollution. Their own wastes, unless collected and treated, often impact negatively on nearby lagoons, lakes, and streams. Water problems may also be created by poor solid waste management by tourism operators, particularly hotels, and lack of water conservation by tourists.

at both national and community levels, including capacity building through training and raising public awareness. SOPAC is also working to widely disseminate information on best practices, water demand management, wastewater and sanitation, and hygiene. Other collaborating partners supporting the theme include Australian Agency for International Development, Dialogue on Water and Climate, Global Water Partnership, New Zealand AID, Pacific Water Association, UK Department for International Development, and World Bank.

information more widely available, and mainstream water and sanitation education into formal curricula. Improve the use of available and appropriate technologies and reduce un-accounted for water. Develop island specific training programs. Institutional Strengthening and Governance Incorporate the social, economic, environmental, and cultural needs of citizens into national policies. Pursue strong national and regional leadership in water resources management, and regional partnerships. Financing Policies Create a healthier investment environment through appropriate cost recovery, tariffs, billing and collection, and financially sound operating systems. Establish financially viable enterprises that result in improved performance.

Water-related illness is chronic among poor islanders, particularly children. In addition to water supply issues, most island nations lack adequate sanitation. This is being addressed through community-based experiments with technology such as composting toilets, but cultural challenges must be overcome before this can be considered successful. Small islands are unique in the fragility of their water resources, and ADB and a group of partners are helping small Pacific island countries focus on integrated water management practices. ACTION PLAN Government, private sector, and civil society representatives from 18 island countries adopted a regional policy framework and action plan in the Fiji Islands at the ADB-organized regional consultation in August 2002 on Water in Small Island Countries. Delegates agreed to a unified approach and committed to achieving sustainable water management for the benefit of all. The action plan will help increase the capacity of small island countries to sustainably manage water, sanitation, and hygiene. The key aspects of the action plan cover water resources management; vulnerability; participatory planning; and education, technology, financing, and institutional strengthening.

IMPROVING HEALTH Water-related illness is chronic among poor islanders, particularly children

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in 2003:

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