By Milika Sobey. Last week, I visited Manaoba Island, located in Malaita Province. This was my first visit to rural Solomon Islands since 1988 when I went on a two-week trip to the Western Province to do research in Marovo Lagoon. Little has changed in terms of living standards and access to water and sanitation.
My visit is part of a programme designing process for the Solomon Islands Government. IUCN is working with UNDP and the Solomon Islands Government to design the water sector adaptation programme to be funded by the Global Environment Facility.
I was accompanied by three local consultants, a representative from UNDP and another from the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification. The trip involved a 30 minute flight to Auki (provincial capital of Malaita) followed by a sea journey of three and a half hours in a 23ft fibreglass boat that had a 40hp engine (with no back-up) and carrying nine persons with luggage. Not an ideal situation.
We stayed in Terefalu village, one of four or five villages on the island. There are 26 households and they have one natural well which serves as their source of potable water. It was a 25 minute walk from the village to the well. The villagers dug three other wells to serve as communal bathing and laundry sites. The beaches serve as toilets for the villagers.
We surveyed the water sources, the existing infrastructure for rainwater harvesting and improvements that could be made for water accessibility and storage. A meeting was convened with the villagers so that we could explain the project and discuss challenges that the potential impacts of climate change would bring about. The provincial Minister for Economic Planning also accompanied us to Terefalu and after talking to him at great length, I got the impression that he and the villagers had resigned themselves to the fact that water would always be an issue for them and that as far as this project was concerned, they would “believe it when they see it”. They have been pleading for piped water for the last 40 years but to no avail.
This trip highlighted a few important considerations that need to be taken into account in the selection of pilot sites - including safety, community capacity and accessibility of site.
Manaoba Island is only one of the proposed pilot sites. Others include Gizo and Santa Catalina. Our team has a month to get things into shape as a programme design before we present our ideas back in Honiara to get feedback and suggestions.
Such a trip makes one reflect on the disconnect between the Millennium Development Goals and the reality on the ground. For clean water and basic sanitation to be accessible to all, yes there is a need for infrastructure but there is also a need for a change in mind-sets and the latter is probably the greater challenge.
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