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Water in the Pacific Islands: case studies from Fiji and Kiribati

A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Velma I. Grover
Natural Resource Consultant
Hamilton, Ontario
Science Publishers
Enfield (NH) Jersey Plymouth
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Published by Science Publishers, NH, USA
An Imprint of Edenbridge Ltd.
Printed in India
Foreword iii
Preface v
List of Contributors xi
1. Introduction 3
Velma I. Grover
2. Water Wars? Conflict, Cooperation, and Negotiation over 21
Transboundary Water
Shlomi Dinar
3. Conflicts in Shared River Basins 39
Nils Petter Gleditsch, Håvard Hegre and Hans Petter Wollebæk Toset
4. Water Conflicts in China 69
Desheng Hu
5. Disputes over Water, Natural Resources and Human 83
Security in Bangladesh: Towards a Conflict Analysis
Irna van der Molen and Atiq Rahman
6. The Hydropolitics of Cooperation: South Africa 125
during the Cold War
Anthony Turton
7. Competition for Limited Water Resources in Botswana 145
Umoh T. Umoh, Santosh Kumar, Piet K. Kenabatho and
Imoh J. Ekpoh
8. Water Conflict in West Africa: The Niger River Basin 163
Umoh T. Umoh, Imoh J. Ekpoh and Santosh Kumar
viii Water: A Source of Coflict or Cooperation?
9. River Development and Bilateral Cooperation: Lesotho 177
Highlands Water Project Case Study
Naho Mirumachi
10. Water: An Essential Commodity and Yet a Potential Source 195
of Conflict with Special Reference to Australia
Syed U. Hussainy and Santosh Kumar
11. Enhancing Sustainability in River Basin Management through 213
Conflict Resolution: Comparative Analysis from the U.S. and
South Korea
Young-Doo Wang, William James Smith, Jr., John Byrne,
Michael Scozzafava and Joon-Hee Lee
12. International Joint Commission: A Model of Cooperation 251
in the Great Lakes Region
Velma I. Grover and Haseen Khan
13. Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 269
Eberhard Weber
Index 311
Appendix 317
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case
Studies from Fiji and Kiribati
Eberhard Weber
The University of the South Pacific
Faculty of Islands and Oceans, Head of the School of Geography
Suva, Fiji Islands
Water can be a scarce resource in the Pacific Islands. This statement seems
to be rather contradictory considering that the Pacific Ocean is by far the
single largest body of water on the globe, and most of the Pacific Islands
are humid tropical islands, where precipitation is plentiful (Carpenter et
al., 2002). Drought and water scarcity therefore is not easily recognized as
a problem (Terry and Raj, 2002). Despite this a growing number of islands
in the Pacific Ocean are reporting water scarcity, many of them even facing
severe water problems. White et al., therefore, highlight that population
centres in small islands of the Pacific have water supply problems that are
amongst the most critical in the world (White et al.,1999, 2004).
Quite often islands in the Pacific Ocean are very small and without
meaningful catchment areas. The harvesting and storage of freshwater is
a constraint with a number of factors such as small land areas, atoll
geology, pressures of human settlements, conflicts over traditional resource
rights, capacity limitations, frequent droughts and inundation by the sea
during storms (White et al., 2004). At the same time the Pacific Islands are
experiencing the increasing demand for water from a fast growing
population, the expanding tourism sector and sometimes also industries.
In addition many countries in the Pacific Island region are threatened by
a continued over-exploitation and pollution of limited surface and
groundwater resources and the environmental degradation of coastal areas
(including coral reefs) (Baisyet 1994).
270 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Water scarcity cannot be seen isolated from the other threats that the
small islands are facing. Natural hazards like cyclones and flash floods
have caused severe damage to the island’s water supply since long. Global
climate change and the anticipated rise in sea-levels are especially
threatening the low-lying atoll islands. These new risks, which will have
an impact not only on freshwater resources on these islands, but also on
the ability of island populations to cope with their changing environments.
The danger that a growing number of islands will become uninhabitable
and their residents environmental refugees (Dow et al., 2005) is thus rather
real and urgent.
There are many issues regarding water in the Pacific Islands. As it is not
possible to cover all—two major aspects therefore will be in the foreground
in this chapter. First to describe the background under which water-
related issues are dealt with in the Pacific. This means the physical,
environmental, economic as well as the political and institutional sides of
water supply and distribution. Such a perspective should serve the purpose
of discussing whether the islands in the Pacific are different in their water-
related problems from other regions in the world.
This general overview will then be developed by a number of case
studies. These case studies will highlight the various topics involved in
water- related issues in the Pacific. The first case study looks at the 1997-
98 in Fiji. The vulnerability of Fiji’s economy and the people to cope with
such a lack of rainfall will be the centre of discussion. After that we will
have a look at the situation in Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands, and the
biggest urban agglomeration in the Pacific Island region. Annual rainfall
of more than 3,100 mm makes Suva one of the ‘wettest’ capitals on the
globe, but nevertheless water scarcity has become a major problem for the
200,000 odd citizens. The episodes of ‘urban droughts’ are becoming more
frequent in recent years and it seems that in the near future not much hope
for an improvement can be expected. Another important issue on water
will be taken up in the third case study on Fiji: conflicting property rights
create economic, political and social instability in Fiji. The parallel existence
of traditional and modern institutions create fields of uncertainty that also
make water-related issues even more complex than they are already. Finally,
the last case study is on South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. South Tarawa
is one of the most densely populated areas within the Pacific Island region.
Today almost half of Kiribati’s population is concentrated on South Tarawa,
and the population is rising at a very fast pace. Migration from the outer
islands of Kiribati might reduce water-related problems there, but in South
Tarawa the limits for a sustainable water supply have been reached since
The Pacific Ocean is the biggest in the world. It is 16,700 km wide at the
equator and more than 19,000 km at its widest point from Singapore to
Panama. The huge body of water, more than 150 million km2, covers an
area larger than the world’s entire land mass combined.
The Pacific Islands region occupies a vast 30 million km2 of the Pacific
Ocean, which is an area more than three times larger than the United States
of America or China. The region has a very small land mass. Geographically
it extends from Pitcairn in the east to Papua New Guinea in the west. It has
7,500 islands of which less than 1000 are inhabited. The 22 countries and
territories of the Pacific Islands region consist of approximately 550,000
km2 of land with 7.5 million inhabitants. If Papua New Guinea is excluded,
the figures drop to 87,587 km2 of land and 2.7 million people.
Fig. 1. The Pacific Islands
The countries in the South Pacific have large coast-to-land ratios. Their
economies mainly depend on coastal resources, and large proportions of
their populations are concentrated in coastal areas. The only exception in
the region is Papua New Guinea, which has a more dispersed population
and economic base (Bleakley, 1995).
The Pacific Islands region is geographically extremely diverse. The
largest state, Papua New Guinea, has a land area of 462,000 km2, while the
smallest islands states such as Nauru, Pitcairn, Tokelau and Tuvalu are
smaller than 30 km2 each. Some countries and territories, like Nauru and
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 271
272 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Niue, consist of one single small island while others such as French
Polynesia and the Federated States of Micronesia have more than a hundred
islands each (Table 1), which are in some cases spread out over enormous
Table 1. Summary data for Pacific Island countries and territories, Source: Falkland (2002)
Approx. Total land Number of
Country or Island type according to
Sub-region population area islands or
territory geology
(in 2000) (km2) atolls
Pacific Island countries
Cook Islands Polynesia 16,000 240 15 Volcanic, volcanic &
limestone, atoll
Federated States Micronesia 114,000 702 607 Volcanic, atoll, mixed
of Micronesia
Fiji Melanesia 785,000 18,300 300 Volcanic, limestone,
(Approx.) atoll, mixed
Kiribati Micronesia 85,000 810 33 32 atolls or coral islands,
1 limestone island
Nauru Micronesia 11,000 21 1 Limestone
Niue Polynesia 1,700 260 1 Limestone
Palau Micronesia 22,000 487 200 Volcanic, some with
(approx.) limestone
Papua New Melanesia 4,400,000 462,000 ? Volcanic, limestone,
Guinea coral islands and atolls
Republic of Micronesia 60,000 181 29 Atolls and coral islands
Marshall Islands
Samoa Polynesia 175,000 2,930 9 Volcanic
Solomon Islands Melanesia 417,000 28,000 347 Volcanic, limestone,
Tonga Polynesia 99,000 747 171 Volcanic, limestone,
limestone & sand,
Tuvalu Polynesia 11,000 26 9 Atoll
Vanuatu Melanesia 182,000 12,190 80 Predominantly volcanic
with coastal sands and
Other Pacific islands (Territories of USA and France)
American Samoa Polynesia 67,000 199 7 5 volcanic and 2 atolls
French Polynesia Polynesia 254,000 3,660 130 Volcanic, volcanic &
limestone, atolls
Guam (USA) Micronesia 158,000 549 1 Volcanic (south) and
limestone (north)
New Caledonia Melanesia 205,000 18,600 7 Volcanic, limestone
Island countries in other regions
East Timor SE Asia 800,000 24,000 1 main island Volcanic
Maldives Indian Ocean 270,100 300 26 atolls Approx. 1,900 islands
distances of several thousands of kilometers like Kiribati. This state has a
land territory of just 810 km2 scattered over an Exclusive Economic Zone
of more than 3.5 million km2. The country stretches almost 5,000 kilometers
from East to West and more than 2000 kilometers from North to South. To
fly from South Tarawa, the country’s capital, to Kiritimati Island, the
biggest island, one has to cross over in two other countries, Fiji and the
USA (Hawaii).
Small islands are often classified according to their topography, which
is mainly a result of their geological structure (Fig. 2). We roughly
differentiate between ‘high’ and ‘low’ islands, and somehow in the middle
‘raised’ islands. Geographical factors play a major role in development
problems of the islands in the Pacific. Many of them belong to the group
of the least developed countries, but differences in resource endowment
and living standards of the population are vast. High islands have fertile
soils for agriculture and generally good water resources, both surface
water as well as groundwater, however there are usually much bigger
problems in low islands.
The Melanesian countries are relatively big, mountainous and of volcanic
origin. Rich soils that provide a good base for agriculture, exploitable
mineral resources and plentiful marine resources are found here. Many of
the Polynesian and Micronesian island nations however are much smaller
Fig. 2. Main types of mid-oceanic islands in the Pacific
Source: Scott et al. (2003)
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 273
274 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
and disadvantaged by a number of physical features. Kiribati, the Marshall
Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu consist mainly of low-lying atolls, many less
than 100 km2 in size and not more than five meters above sea level.
Atolls are often described as one of the earth’s harshest environments. In
most cases they are extremely isolated like oases amidst an oceanic desert.
Tiny long stretches of land, only a few hundred metres broad, and hundreds,
if not thousands of kilometers away from larger landmasses create unique
ecosystems, but also unique conditions for human existence. Here people
do not have the safety margin available in continental and large insular
regions. Considerable effort is needed to exploit poor atoll soils. Atoll
production systems include a limited selection of tree crops, root crops,
fisheries and cottage industry (Rapaport, 1990). Some atoll states such as
the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean have managed to set up commercial
fishing and are also rather successful in the tourism sector.
Smaller volcanic islands such as the Cook Islands, parts of the Federated
States of Micronesia, Tonga and Samoa have some fertile land, but their
small size and the lack of natural resources are enormous obstacles to
economic development.
High islands of volcanic origin usually have good potential for the
development of surface water resources as well as groundwater resources.
They often have perennial rivers (e.g. many islands in Fiji, Papua New
Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu). Volcanic islands frequently
have springs, both in elevated and coastal areas that are used as important
sources for water supply schemes, especially on the rural community
Depending on their location many of the high islands also receive a lot
of precipitation, most as orographic rain. The availability of water is
therefore not the major problem, but the storage and distribution of water
alongwith the very high capital costs for the water supply of fast growing
urban centres are areas of concern. Low coral islands as well as (raised)
limestone islands have little surface water resources and largely depend
on groundwater resources that are often complemented by the collection
of rainwater (and unconventional sources of freshwater such as
desalination). Raised limestone islands generally have little or no surface
water owing to the high permeability of the rock. On smaller islands and
small catchments of larger islands, stream flows may become very low or
cease during extended droughts. Surface water on low islands, if present,
is likely to be in the form of shallow, brackish lakes unless the rainfall is
very high when it may be fresh. Nauru, for example, is a limestone island
which has an interior brackish lake near sea level (Falkland, 2002).
Freshwater on atolls is the most limiting factor for human settlements. The
island soil and underground is usually so porous that water seeps down
to a lens of freshwater saturating rocks and sand almost instantaneously.
Rapaport (1990) highlights that many Pacific atolls once supported
larger populations than they do today. Early accounts indicate a “miserable
existence for the inhabitants of many atolls visited” (Wiens, 1962).
Starvation, emigration, and war were very much the reality on many atolls
(Alkire, 1978, Pollock, 1970).
Freshwater resources of small island states are often classified as either
‘conventional’ or ‘non-conventional’. Falkland (2002) differentiates between
“naturally occurring water resources” that require a relatively low level of
technology to develop them and “water resources involving a higher level
of technology” (Falkland, 2002). Naturally occurring or conventional
resources include rainwater collected and stored, groundwater and surface
water. Non-conventional resources include the use of seawater or brackish
groundwater, desalination, water importation by ships or pipelines, treated
wastewater, and substitution of water (such as the use of coconuts during
The collection of rainwater is rather common on the Pacific Islands.
Sometimes entire collection systems are developed, especially where other
sources of freshwater are limited and where sufficient precipitation can be
expected during longer periods of a year. Rainwater collection systems are
found on the roofs of individual houses, administrative buildings or even
especially paved runways. On some very small low-lying countries, such
as Tuvalu, the northern atolls of the Cook Islands, and some of the raised
coral islands of Tonga, rainwater collection on roofs of community buildings
is the sole source of fresh water.
For small, low-lying islands groundwater is often the most reliable and
important water resource. Groundwater occurs either as perched or as
basal aquifers. Perched aquifers develop above an impermeable layer, or
when groundwater is retained in compartments by a series of vertical
volcanic dikes (Falkland and Custodio, 1991). They are similar to the
aquifers found on large islands or continents. Basal aquifers occur on high
as well as low islands in the form of coastal aquifers or rainwater that
percolates through an island and floats on the denser salt or brackish water
in what is called a Ghyben-Herzberg lens (Whittaker, 1998, see Figure 3).
The size of such a freshwater lens is more or less proportional to the
width and surface area of an island. It is also influenced by factors such as
rainfall levels, the permeability of the rock beneath the island, and salt
mixing due to storm- or tide-induced pressure (Roy and Connell, 1991). In
some cases such lenses may be as thick as 20 metres providing secure and
long-lasting water supply. On raised coral atolls, such as Nauru and many
of the islands of Tonga the freshwater lens may be no more than 10–20
centimetres thick, and is thus very vulnerable to over-exploitation (Falkland
and Custodio, 1991).
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 275
276 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Surface water in bigger quantities and potable qualities is mainly
restricted to high islands. It occurs here in the form of ephemeral and
perennial streams, springs, lakes, and swamps (Falkland, 1999). On coral
atolls and limestone islands surface water is rarely found because of the
high infiltration capacity of the soils and rocks (Falkland and Custodio,
1991). The usual small size and altitude of these islands also restrict the
size of potential catchment areas. In those rare cases where surface water
is found on low islands, it is likely to be in the form of shallow, often
brackish lakes that easily get polluted especially in places with a high
population density.
A number of high islands in the Pacific use mainly surface water as their
major source of freshwater supply because gravity-fed water systems are
more cost-effective than the development and maintenance of
systems based on groundwater sources. For example, surface water
provides more than 95% of the water requirements in French Polynesia.
Surface water also contributes to the freshwater supply in Samoa, Fiji,
Nauru, Palau, and on the high islands of the Cook Islands (Falkland and
Custodio, 1991).
Fig. 3. Freshwater lens of a coral atoll
Source: White et al. (2002)
Almost 98% of global water resources is saltwater. It therefore seems
logical when countries in the middle of the ocean start to use saltwater to
generate freshwater. There are several technologies at hand (distillation,
reverse osmosis and electrodialysis) and some countries in the Pacific
region started to use this unconventional source for their regular water
supply. On Nauru about 60% of the island’s water supply is from
desalinisation. The heat from the power station is used for saltwater
distillation. Experience with desalination on South Tarawa, Kiribati, has
however shown the problems and limitations of desalinisation. A number
of reverse osmosis units have been installed (Metutera, 2002), but some
had been non-functional for long periods as it took months to get spare
parts. The plants installed on Tarawa supply only a small proportion of the
total water supply requirements. It would be rather risky to depend
entirely on a technology that obviously cannot be well maintained. In
addition water produced in desalinisation plants is much more expensive
than ‘conventional’ sources of freshwater due to the high energy costs and
other operating expenses. Desalinisation is therefore an option where the
high costs can be recovered easily, or where due to the lack of other
freshwater sources no alternatives to this rather expensive solution are
available. In a number of tourist islands reverse osmosis is used to supply
water to hotels and beach resorts (e.g. Mana Island, Fiji and Akitua island,
Aitutaki atoll, Cook Islands).
Another non-conventional source of freshwater is the transportation of
water from one island to another through ships or pipelines. Before Nauru
started to produce freshwater through distillation, ships supplied water to
the people of this tiny island nation. Also some of the small islands of Fiji
and Tonga regularly receive water from nearby islands by barge or boat.
During severe droughts or natural disasters small islands of Fiji, Kiribati,
and the Marshall Islands have relied on coconuts for drinking water.
Finally, non-potable sources, including sea water, brackish groundwater
and wastewater, are used to flush toilets and fire fighting on a number of
Pacific Islands such as Kiribati and the Marshall Islands (Falkland, 1999).
In the Pacific region there are a growing number of people, who do not
have as much water as is required. A survey by the Asian Development
Bank (ADB) found that only 50–75% of the residents of Samoa and only
44% of the residents in Kiribati had access to safe water (Burns, 2002). In
the Federated States of Micronesia only 30% of the population has access
to safe water, and in the Marshall Islands not more than 50%. (UNEP,
1999). In Papua New Guinea just 10% of the rural population has access to
safe drinking water (Burns, 2002). Rapid growth in population , and an
increasing demand from the tourism sector and industry are placing a lot
of strain on the limited water resources of many Pacific Island Developing
Countries (PIDCs) (Falkland and Custodio, 1991). In the major centres
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 277
278 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
that are growing at alarming rates the existing supply and distribution
systems are no longer capable of satisfying demand. Very often capital is
not available to make necessary expansions or even to safeguard that the
existing system is well maintained. Water leakages have let large quantities
of this already scarce resource go waste. In extreme cases up to 70% of
water is lost through leaks in the system. (SOPAC, 2001).
Burns (2002) highlights that many islands in the Pacific rely on a single
source of water. This makes them rather vulnerable to all sorts of risks.
Here vulnerability is different from the risk of water scarcity elsewhere.
Sometimes the next freshwater source is thousands of kilometers away; at
times there are no frequent transport links to many of the islands, so that
it can take many days, if not weeks to provide supply. The ability to sustain
a particular level of freshwater supply thus decides whether an island is
permanently suitable for human settlement or whether people have to
move elsewhere. In the years to come many islands might get deserted by
people because water scarcity makes them uninhabitable. Environmentally
induced migration will aggravate the concentration of population on major
islands and increase environmental problems even further.
Problems with water are caused not only by population growth and
migration to the major cities in the region. Cyclones with heavy winds and
torrential rain are causing floods in many areas, destroying crops in the
fields and people’s homes. Flooding also often leads to water pollution,
making water unsafe for human consumption. This occurs especially
where no adequate sewage disposal infrastructure exists (UNEP, 1999).
Last but not the least, El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes
have reduced the amount of rainfall considerably in many parts of the
western Pacific. Droughts caused by El Niño were reported in 1978, 1983,
1987, 1992, 1997-98, 2001 and 2003. Some stations recorded a decline in
precipitation by as much as 87% in the western Pacific while resulting in
unusually high rainfall in the central Pacific (Burns, 2002; Terry and Raj,
Droughts caused by El Niño have a severe impact on both high as well
as low islands. They put a lot of strain on agricultural production, and
have also depleted rainfall collection supplies and the freshwater lenses
and perched aquifers on many atoll islands in the Pacific. For example, in
1998, 40 atolls of Micronesia ran out of water during an ENSO event,
resulting in the declaration of a national emergency (Field, 1998a, b). In
the same year, rainwater tanks in substantial parts of Kiribati dried up and
shallow groundwater reserves became brackish (World Bank, 2000). The
main island of the Marshall Islands only had access to drinking water for
seven hours every fourteen days, and rationing occurred on all islands in
the North Pacific (East-West Center 2001). In 1998 Fiji had one of the
severest droughts in history. In the seven months from September 1997 to
March 1998, rainfall recorded was 60% lower than the average – the
lowest ever recorded in the country since 1942 (Bolataki, 1998; Lightfood,
Water and Vulnerability of Small Island Developing States
Although small island states are not at all homogeneous they share many
common features that lead to an increase of their vulnerability. They are
small in size and in most cases surrounded by larges expanses of ocean;
they usually have limited resources, are prone to natural disasters and
extreme events. Geographically they are often rather isolated and their
economies are extremely open and vulnerable to external shocks. These
and other characteristics limit the capacity of small island states to mitigate
risks and stress and to adapt to changing natural and cultural environments
(IPCC, 2001a).
Freshwater resources and their management have many aspects not
only in the Pacific. Severe drought conditions in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and
many other countries in the Pacific Island region highlighted the urgency
to develop more efficient ways of water use, and better and safer ways of
water supply and distribution. Restrictions are not only due to natural
reasons, but very often because financial commitment Pacific Island nations
can contribute is much less than it would be necessary. Capital costs are
very high especially for urban water supply systems.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific attract the highest
per capita aid in the developing world. A justification of this could be that
due to their very special situation, SIDS are more vulnerable to natural
hazards, and to economic recession than ‘normal’ developing countries.
The vulnerability of the SIDS is also often mentioned, as regards to water-
related problems.
Many of the Pacific Islands are amongst the Small Island Developing
States. SIDS are small islands and low-lying coastal countries that have a
small population, lack of resources, are remote, and are especially vulnerable
to natural disasters. They largely depend on international trade. They
suffer from lack of economies of scale, high transportation and
communication costs, and costly public administration and infrastructure.
Fifty one states and territories work together in the Alliance of Small
Island States (AOSIS). In April 1994, at their first Global Conference on
Sustainable Development of SIDS in Barbados, they adopted the Barbados
Programme of Action that at various levels would promote sustainable
development of SIDS. Since then the United Nations confirmed the special
situation of the SIDS at various meetings and conferences.The special
status of SIDS was also confirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development in 2002.
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 279
280 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Undoubtedly life on a tiny island, in the middle of a huge ocean, with
a small population and hardly any resources would be difficult. Cyclones
or hurricanes frequently destroy crops and bring floods. However the per
capita income of many of these SIDS is higher than in many other
developing countries. Countries that have their own problems that might
be different from those of the SIDS, but not necessarily less severe and
easier to solve.
Pacific Islands are not homogenous at all. There are vast differences in
the physical, economic, historical and cultural backgrounds of island
nations, and also among the individual islands themselves. Drought on
a low-lying atoll island that largely depends on its groundwater is very
different from drought on a big, mountainous high island where the water
supply is mainly dependent on rivers. Both types of islands are very
vulnerable to internal processes such as a high population growth and also
to external pressure of no rainfall due to El Niño events. But both types
of islands are vulnerable in a different way, and their vulnerability requires
different coping strategies and adaptations.
One could get the impression that due to the (small) scale of cities and
a low population on the Pacific Islands problems related to water are better
and easier manageable than elsewhere. The cities of the Pacific Islands are
not huge settlements with millions of inhabitants such as many cities in
Asia. In the Pacific the cities are tiny. The solutions should be within the
financial means of the municipalities and the Governments of these islands.
However we should not forget that the budget outlay of all these nations is
also very small. Investments in water supply systems are costly, and thus
the size of a population is not really a good indicator on the affordability of
modern technology especially in case where the majority of the people is
rather poor and not able to pay much for their water needs.
In a recent report on Urbanization in the Pacific Islands the World Bank
“The problems associated with delivering satisfactory water supply
in Pacific island towns are primarily political and institutional
rather than technical. They reflect inappropriate policies, undue
government interference, and the lack of appropriate incentives
for consumers to reduce demand to sustainable levels, all of which
undermine the ability to operate and maintain water supply
systems properly” (World Bank, 2002).
In the case of Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands, a lack in rainfall can
hardly be seen as a major reason for water scarcity. Also an unequal
distribution of rainfall during the year does not explain the situation. As
in many other places in the Pacific Islands, Suva has high rainfall throughout
the year, without a real distinct dry season. Nevertheless there are
tremendous problems with water and its supply.
The three case studies from Fiji and one from South Tarawa, the capital
of Kiribati, will give insights in the very complex causes of water-related
problems. The case studies show that scarcity created by nature is only
marginally the reason, why human societies face problems regarding
water. The case studies also clearly demonstrate that even in individual
countries like Fiji and Kiribati, regional variations play a very important
role as far as supply of water is concerned.
The Fiji Islands are located between 12°-21°S latitude and 176°E-178°W
longitude. Fiji consists of more than 300 islands of which about 1/3 are
inhabited. With a land mass of 18,272 km2 Fiji is the third largest state in
the region next to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the country covers 1.3 million km2. The
two biggest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, have the majority of the
total population of about 900,000, with about 50% living in urban centres
such as Suva (177,000), Lautoka (45,000), Labasa (25,000) and Nadi (33,000).
The two largest islands account for 87% of the land area and 90% of the
Fig. 4. Factors influencing water supply and demand in Fiji
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 281
282 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
The larger islands such as Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Kadavu and
the islands of the Lomaiviti group are rather mountainous and of volcanic
origin. They are rising more or less abruptly from the shore to impressive
heights. The southeast or windward sides of the islands record the highest
rainfall of up to 5,000 mm per year. The western and northern parts of the
major islands are in the rain shadow of the volcanic mountain ranges.
They are therefore much drier and frequently threatened by droughts
(Terry and Raj, 2002).
The climate in Fiji is dominated by the southeast trade winds. Exposure
and topography control the distribution of rainfall on the islands. Average
annual precipitation over the Fiji Group ranges from 1500 mm on smaller
islands to over 4000 mm on the larger islands. Topographic effects mean
however that much of this falls within the windward side of the islands.
The wet season from November to April is also the season of tropical
cyclones. In the western parts of the bigger islands up to 80% of the annual
total rainfall falls during this period. The western and northern parts of the
major islands receive only 60-70% of the rainfall recorded in the eastern
parts (Fig. 5). Here drought conditions are more likely to occur, especially
during El-Niño episodes. These drier parts of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu
are the centre of Fiji’s sugar cane production. Drought therefore frequently
affects the livelihood of a huge number of people and also cause a lot of
harm to Fiji’s export earnings (Lightfood, 1999).
Fig. 5. Monthly total rainfall averages (1961–1998) for selected places
Source: Fiji Meteorological Service
Decline in agricultural production threatens food security, and poses
severe health problems, whilst errant rainfall patterns disrupt hydroelectric
power generation on Viti Levu. These are some of the more visible impacts
of water shortages over these periods.
Table 2. Rainfall during Nov-April and May–Oct. in major centres of Fiji
Nadi Suva Labasa
mm % mm % mm %
Nov-April 1385 76.6 1991 63.4 1794 78.7
May-Oct 424 23.4 1150 36.6 486 21.3
Total 1809 100.0 3141 100.0 2280 100.0
Source: Fiji Meteorological Service
Drought in the western and northern parts of Fiji’s major islands were
recorded in 1983 and 1987. Both were connected to El Niño events. The
latter one caused severe water shortages all over Fiji, including the usually
wet areas of Suva/Nausori. The shortages were so severe that water
supply needed to be restricted in most urban centres. Agriculture, especially
Fiji’s sugar industry, was badly affected.
The drought of 1987 was considered the worst drought in more than 100
years – until ten years later when an even more severe one afflicted the
country. The 1997/98 drought affected most of the Pacific Island countries.
The impact on water supply and agriculture created a number of economic,
social and health problems. A direct consequence of the drought was Fiji’s
economic recession of 1998, when GDP was 8% lower than in 1996
(Lightfoot, 1999). In the western and northern provinces of the two main
islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, agricultural activities and production
suffered a lot. These provinces are the centre of Fiji’s sugar cane cultivation,
and until recently the most important economic sector of the country.
There are more than 22,000 sugar cane farmers in Fiji. The vast majority
of them have holdings that are not larger than 3–4 hectares. They rarely
produce more than 200 tons of sugar cane a year. They earn around F$3,000
not enough to be above the poverty line. Another 20,000 low paid harvesting
workers earn their livelihood directly through sugar cane production. A
few thousands work as lorry drivers to bring the sugar cane to the mills or
are employed in the sugar mills. Altogether some 50,000 people find
employment in the sugar sector. This is about a quarter of Fiji’s economically
active population. Drought and income loss in sugar cane thus have severe
consequences for the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people. In
addition to that sugar cane is also one of the major export sectors that
provide Fiji with foreign exchange. In a good year more than F$300 million
is earned through the export of sugar mainly to the European Union.
During the drought of 1997-98 Fiji’s sugar cane production declined by
more than half. Instead of about four million tons not even two million
tons of sugar cane were harvested. Officials from the Fiji Sugar Corporation
estimated that the country lost about US$ 50 million in export earnings.
For the first time in history, Fiji had been forced to import its domestic
sugar requirement. About 35,000 tons of sugar was bought from Thailand,
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 283
284 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
Guatemala and Australia. The country was also forced to cancel export
commitment of more than 100,000 tons of sugar to Japan, Malaysia and
other Pacific Island countries (Radio Australia, July 13, 1998). The price of
shares of the Fiji Sugar Corporation dropped to a record low of US$ 0.18
(Radio Australia, June 5, 1998).
Fig. 6. Average rainfall in Lautoka and during the 1997-98 drought
Source: Fiji Meteorological Service
In some districts small farmers lost their entire sugar cane crop. In the
Ba province, almost all of 43,000 people needed government assistance. In
all drought affected provinces about 80,000 people 10% of Fiji’s
population depended on government support to avert starvation and
destitution (Daily Post, June 5, 1998). A year later sugar cane production
had fully recovered and a production of 4 million tons was realized (Fiji
Times, March 22, 1999). This time Fiji also benefited from a severe drought
in Mauritius. As this island nation in the Indian Ocean was not able to
supply its sugar quota to the European Union, Fiji was asked to make up
Mauritius’ deficit (Radio Australia, August 12, 1999).
As sugar cane production declined the demand for cane cutters, mill
workers and other workers dependent on sugar production dropped. In
total there was 50% less work available for sugar cane cutters. The burden
of this reduction fell mainly on casual workers (Lightfood, 1999).
The drought of 1997-98 demonstrated how vulnerable Fiji’s economy
and society is to water scarcity. The losses in the sugar industry were
surely the most profound and led to severe consequences. In 2004-05 dry
conditions again seriously affected the cane farming belt in Viti Levu. The
Save the Children Fund Fiji estimated that 5,000 to 8,000 children dropped
out of school during the year. Parents had no money to pay for school fees,
lunches, bus fares and school books (Fiji Times, February 2, 2005). Water
scarcity however is not only connected to insufficient rainfall. The case
study of Suva shows that people can suffer from a drought even when
plenty of freshwater is around them.
The urban agglomeration that comprises Fiji’s capital Suva and two
smaller independent towns, Lami to the west of Suva peninsula and
Nausori to the east at the Rewa River is at the south-eastern side of the
main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. Between Suva and Nausori a number of
larger settlements have come up during recent decades. Quite often the
area therefore is called the Suva-Nausori-Corridor. Today more than
270,000 people live in this greater Suva urban area, almost a third of Fiji’s
population. One water supply system serves the entire area, but Suva,
Nausori and Lami have their own sewerage systems. The water for the
present system is mainly supplied by the Waimanu and Tamavua rivers
and the Savura creek.
The central piece of the greater Suva water supply system is the clear
water reservoir at Tamavua. It is located at an elevation of 124 m, and
water from here is fed into the distribution network and distributed by
gravity. The Tamavua plant is supplied by three gravity sources located in
the headwaters of the Tamavua river catchment, and two pumped sources
on Savura Creek and the upper Waimanu River. In addition water from the
Waila water treatment plant is pumped to the Wainibuku Reservoir at
81 m and to the Raralevu Reservoir at 55 m. Also from these two reservoirs
water is fed by gravity into the distribution network. The Waila water
treatment plant is supplied by water pumped from the lower Waimanu
The water supply in the Lami-Suva-Nausori area is often disrupted,
and the quality of the water is often rather poor as streams and the coastal
waters are more and more polluted. The existing water supply system has
reached the limit of its capacity, and has already placed restrictions on
housing development.
In the year 2002, many of Suva’s citizens often went to work without a
shower. Or they got up an hour earlier to visit a friend or relative who
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 285
286 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
lived in a part of the town where no water disruption occurred. In the same
year, more rain fell on Fiji’s capital than in an average year: 3,627 mm in
Suva, and even 1,000 mm more on the township of Lami, eight kilometres
away from Suva, and a notorious area as far as water scarcity is concerned.
Whoever has lived in Suva for a while wonders how water scarcity could
occur here, as Suva is one of the ‘wettest’ capitals on earth. People living
in the west of Viti Levu always felt sorry for the residents of Suva: as so
much rain is not easy to tolerate.
During the early 1990s water disruptions occurred during ‘drought’
years. By the mid-1990s disruptions became frequent during the drier
periods of each year. Disruptions now occur during all periods of the year.
Provision of water by tank trucks, with storage in plastic tanks, which is
expensive, is becoming increasingly common.
Water scarcity is a real problem for a larger part of Suva’s population.
It happens and those who are not affected by it would not even recognize
the suffering of people living just in the next suburb: It occurs on days
when there is a heavy downpour; during the rainy season, and it happens
not because there is no rain. Sometimes areas in Suva, Lami or the small
town of Nausori people must arrange their lives without water for days,
weeks and sometimes even months (Keith-Reid, 2003). They get used to
waking up in the middle of the night to see if the pressure is strong
enough for some water in their taps. At the roadside they wait with
buckets and cans for the lorries and trucks of the Public Works Department
– quite often in vain. Employers send their workers home as the low water
pressure does not reach higher levels in multiple-floor buildings. Schools
have to close and the University of the South Pacific has sent thousands of
students home as there was no water available on campus.
There are many reasons for the water scarcity in Suva, and a lack in
rainfall is not one of them.
According to the Suva-Nausori Water and Sewerage Masterplan more
than 50% of the water provided through Suva’s distribution system gets
lost before it reaches consumers. Leakages, illegal connections and other
errors cost the water supply authorities a lot.
The population of greater Suva will increase from 248,000 in 1999 to
371,000 by the year 2019 (Fiji Times, December 27, 2001). The present
distribution system is already too small to cater for the existing population,
not to speak of the annual population increase of 2.1% over the next 20
years. In addition to shortages in water supply not even 40% of Suva’s
population is connected to the sewerage reticulation system. More than
60% use septic tanks and pit latrines, which perform poorly in Suva’s low
permeability soils. These large numbers of unconnected households,
overflows from the sewerage system as well as industrial discharges to
drains, creeks and the bay are causing environmental damage and pose a
potential risk to public health (Fiji Times, December 27, 2001).
People living in one of the many squatter settlements in and around
Suva are not connected to the water supply and sewerage system. It is
estimated that by the year 2006 the Suva-Nausori corridor will be home to
90,000 squatters. 50 to 60% of these squatters live below poverty line and
do have not enough money for even basic needs (Fiji Sun, August 18,
2004). Between 1996 and 2003 there had been a 73% increase in squatter
settlements in Suva (Fiji Times, Feb. 9, 2005).
But not only the very poor suffer from water scarcity. In December 2002
one of Suva’s most popular hotels had its own experience: within less than
a day the hotel lost all its 105 guests. From full occupancy to empty, and
to make matters worse most of the guests refused to pay their bills. The
hotel had not received a single drop of water for more than 20 hours (Fiji
Times, December 14, 2002). Tradewinds Hotel was not the only prominent
victim of the water crisis. At Lautoka hospital major surgical operations
were cancelled as the hospital had no water. In many parts of Viti Levu
people had to improvise their water supply, in most cases without support
from government authorities who just did not have the resources to deal
with a crisis of such a dimension. In the first week of December 2002 a key
pumping station in Suva broke down three times, one reservoir was
empty, and a second one close to empty. Two lines between the reservoir
burst, and aging pipes were leaking all over Suva. To ease the problem the
Public Works Department employed 12 water trucks to bring water to
residents in Suva’s suburbs. Most of them however newer saw such a
There are many reasons for Suva’s ailing water distribution system.
They range from chronic governmental neglect over years, insufficient
budget allocations for the Public Works Department, lack of skilled and
experienced engineers and administrators, and chronic corruption at various
levels within the system. However the major reason is that over decades
little had been done to maintain the water distribution system and adjust
it to the fast growing population. Now as the collapse of the system is
highly visible the costs to get out of the mess are just too high.
Suva is Fiji’s capital. The government is located here and also the
headquarters of most of the government agency. Suva beyond any doubt
gets the highest government allocations as far as infrastructure development
is concerned. The problems are even larger in other places in Fiji.
In June 2002 a state of emergency was declared in Kadavu, Fiji’s fourth
largest island about 80 kilometres south of Suva. Six hundred people live
in the government station Vunisea, Kadavu’s ‘capital’. It consists of a
government hospital, the only one in Kadavu, a government primary and
secondary school, a police station and a post office and a few shops. Some
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 287
288 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
280 students from the government schools as well as 10 of the 12 patients
from the hospital were sent home because of lack of water. Only two
bedridden patients were allowed to stay in the hospital. The water for
these patients had to be brought from a creek half a kilometre away. The
Public Works Minister explained the collapse of the water supply system
because of old and faulty pipes. “We need to replace the pipes for up to
five kilometres. We need to find the money for that” (Fiji Times, June 11,
2002). What elsewhere is not really a big problem – To replace five kilometre
water pipes—can become a major problem on an island, where water
pipes are not available nor the workers who could do the work. It also can
become a big problem when Governments are more concerned with the
major islands, and just do not care much about the infrastructure of the
islands in the periphery.
History and Background of the Present Water Supply System
In its present form Suva’s urban water supply and sewerage system was
developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then it could not keep pace with
the ever increasing demand and has suffered from deferred maintenance
and upgrading.
The need for a reliable water supply system became evident with the
establishment of Suva as the capital of Fiji in 1882. The first piped supply
was installed in 1890 from an intake in the Tamavua hills. With the growth
of the city an appraisal of the existing supply became necessary and a
number of improvements were recommended in 1911. Population and
economic activities increased and thus water demand continued to become
bigger and was met by piecemeal improvements in treatment and storage.
In 1961 the Tamavua water treatment plant was established, which
needed urgent upgradation by 1970. Ten years later a new treatment plant
was required – with support from the Australian Government – the Waila
treatment plant was constructed in 1982. This, however, should have been
the last major investment in Suva’s water supply system for long.
Officials from the Public Works Department and representatives of the
Government frequently blame each other for the neglect. The Director of
Water and Sewerage (DWS) in the Public Works Department has the
overall responsibility for Fiji’s water supply and sewerage treatment and
disposal. The PWD falls under the Ministry of Works and Energy and
operates and maintains 13 regional, city or town water supply systems
that produce and distribute about 170,000 cubic metres water daily serving
some 610,000 people, or more than 80% of Fiji’s population. Most of the
freshwater distributed comes from surface water. At the moment the
exploitation of groundwater does not play a big role in urban supply
To secure water supply to the residents of Suva, the PWD often complains
of low budgetary support for the maintenance and improvement of its
water and sanitation system. According to the PWD engineers it is
technically not much of a problem to ensure that the residents of greater
Suva have secure water supply 24 hours a day. The problems with delivering
satisfactory water supply rather in financial and institutional bottlenecks.
Like many other departments in Fiji with a more technical orientation the
PWD has a shortage of personnel with appropriate managerial, financial,
and technical qualifications and experience. The drafting of new projects,
their technical and financial feasibility thus requires in most of the cases
experts from overseas.
The Government on the other side often blames PWD for the insufficient
system, but also highlights that it is not able to bear the high investment
and operational costs of the existing system. It needs to be seen whether
the water supply improves in the greater Suva area after a U$150 million
project by the Asian Development Bank will be completed by 2007. The
PWD is also in charge of water billing and the collection of water rates.
Revenues earned are turned over to the Government’s consolidated fund
and the PWD in turn is financed through government budgetary allocations.
Fig. 7. Suva – Nausori Water Supply
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 289
290 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
There is little incentive for the PWD to improve its financial efficiency. The
revenues collected at present are insufficient to cover even operating costs.
The situation is even worse as a huge proportion of water revenues are not
collected reducing the financial capability of the Government to tackle the
various problems (Table 3).
Table 3. Collection and arrears of water revenues in Suva
Year Revenue collected Arrears of revenue Outstanding
US$ US$ (%)
1998 11,047,150 9,252,285 45.6
1999 10,054,348 11,127,944 52.5
2000 11,470,720 16,126,473 58.4
2001 12,872,907 18,231,934 58.6
2002 n.a. 21,078,072 n.a.
2003 n.a. 23,412,841 n.a.
2004 n.a. 24,152,022 n.a.
Source: Report of the Auditor General, Audit report on the Infrastructure Sector, Suva,
various years
Another major cause is corruption within the department. Having no
water is just more than an annoyance. Having no water over an extended
period of time makes life in a particular place miserable, if not impossible.
‘Solving the problem’ often costs money, even though the services ought
to be free. In October 2003 there were reports that truck drivers from
private companies distributing water to areas where supply had ceased
asked a fee for their valuable load. Acting on behalf of the PWD charging
money for this water service was illegal. Earlier in 2003 an investigation
was started regarding allegations that private water truck operators had
given PWD officials bribes for cutting off the water supply to entire
neighborhoods to stimulate the water-trucking business. Watermains had
intentionally been shut off so that water trucking was required (PINA
Nius, October 9, 2003). For a few companies Suva’s ‘water crisis’ turned
out to become a spring of money that never runs dry. In an investigation
report on irregularities that occurred during Suva’s water crisis in 2002,
the Auditor General noted that a range of issues hinted at corruption
(Auditor General 2003). One company, not observing tender procedures,
was awarded contracts for supply of hoist trucks and water tankers avoiding
existing contractors. The PWD hired trucks and other equipment at much
higher rates than that which the cheapest contractors had asked for.
Payments were made for services provided by vehicles that were under
repair/scrapped at the time for which the invoice had been issued. Payments
were made for a day that does not exist in the calendar (September 31 (!!!)).
Water tankers were hired at exorbitant rates; hiring rates paid for several
vehicles were equivalent to the purchase price of new vehicles. The report
concludes: “From the various defects, anomalies and irregularities noted
during our investigation on vehicle/plant hires, it appears highly likely
that official corruption exists at Suva Water Supply & Kinoya Sewerage
Treatment Plant” (Auditor General 2003).
It is very difficult to establish how much the Government lost through
such fraudulent practices. The Opposition in Parliament gave figures that
the PWD scam costs tax payers more than the $30 million lost during the
Agriculture scam (Fiji Times, April 12, 2003). All in all it is estimated that
Fiji annually loses more money through the abuse of public funds than the
amount of foreign aid given to the country (PINA Nius, Nov. 27, 2003).
Wastewater and Sewerage
In 1986 a little more than 61% of Suva’s population had a flush toilet in
which wastes were either retained in septic tanks or discharged into the
local sewerage system. Septic tanks are rather problematic to operate in
the Suva area as much of the city’s area is located on soap stone which does
not allow septic tank effluents to percolate properly. In addition to this the
high annual rainfall of more than 3,000 mm on an average results in
frequent saturation of the soil which tends to prevent oxygen penetration.
As a result the natural treatment in Suva’s septic tanks is rather slow and
inefficient. Widespread seepage of sewerage waste into Suva’s numerous
creeks occurs rather frequently and some of the creeks, such as Nubukalou
Creek, have been described as “sewers rather than creeks” (ESCAP, 1999).
What happens in Suva is symptomatic to many Pacific Island capitals
where planning and development activities in the water sector cannot
keep pace with rapid urban growth. Islands with a tiny land mass are
especially affected by this, as sewage waste often accumulates very close
to human settlements causing many waterborne diseases. But not only
freshwater resources are a concern, marine pollution is a reason for
concern in places such as Suva and the lagoon of Tarawa atoll in Kiribati.
The results of a study undertaken by the University of the South Pacific
indicate that the general water quality status of Suva harbor is above
acceptable levels. The faecal coliform counts in the water showed frequent
occurrences of unacceptably high values at several sites, far above the
levels of the World Health Organization (WHO) give as limits for
recreational waters (ESCAP, 1999).
Average faecal coliform concentrations greatly exceed internationally
acceptable standards in most, if not all, of Suva’s creeks. Of particular
concern is Nubukalou Creek which drains a major area of the city that is
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 291
292 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
without sewerage. The National State of the Environment Report states
that “with faecal coliform levels thousands of times above an acceptable
level it should be regarded as a sewer. The continued sale of fish along the
creek bank, with the consequent use of its water for washing them, is a
serious health hazard” (Watling et al., 1992).
In Suva the principal sewage treatment plants of Kinoya and Raiwaqa
are frequently not able to function efficiently. Effluents that are discharged
to surrounding waters are very often not completely treated. Through the
Vatuwaqa River they finally end in the Laucala Bay. A similar scenario
exists in Lami and Nasova where sewage effluents are discharged into the
Wailada Creek and the Leveti Creek respectively.
Industrial areas around Suva, such as Lami, Walu Bay, Vatuwaqa and
Laucala Beach Estate are another source for water contamination. The
water pollution from these areas significantly reduces water quality in the
near-shore waters around Suva and its neighboring settlements, especially
Lami. There are no effective regulations to control the profusion of water
pollution sources in those industrial estates, and the streams and creeks
that drain those areas are probably the most polluted in the country
(Gangaiya et al., 2001).
Land tenure is the way in which people obtain, use and distribute
rights to land. “There is no place in the world where anyone owns all
rights to any piece of land. People own rights in and over land which may
or may not be freely disposable. These rights are always subject to rights
of other persons, entities and institutions in and over the same land”
(Namai, 1987).
Land is a very sensitive issue in Fiji. Land in the Fijian language is called
vanua, which is more than a resource. Vanua gives identity to the people
of Fiji as their lives are closely connected to their land. Land presents the
major source of security, both in a material, social and even psychological
sense. Through the land an individual is tied to a social group. Closely
related family groups live together in villages, cultivating well-defined
land areas originally acquired by conquest or occupation of empty land.
Several such family groups, claiming descent from a common ancestor, are
linked in a larger social units – the mataqali. A number of mataqalis are
grouped into yavusa of varying rank and function. Several yavusa form a
vanua and several vanuas make up a province. There are 14 provinces in
all: Ba, Ra, Serua, Nadroga, Namosi, Bua, Macuata, Lau, Cakaudrove,
Naitasiri, Lomaiviti, Tailevu, Rewa and Kadavu. The provinces form three
confederacies: Kubuna, Tovata and Burebasaga.
The land belongs to all of the mataqali members, not to private people.
They can use it like private land. The land is given to them by their chief
(Turaga ni mataqali). It is the individual who benefits from his or her
efforts when cultivating the land, but it is not theirs.
Each distinctive social unit and subunit (except the tokatoka subdivision)
is headed by a chief (turaga). Consequently, chiefs are placed at different
levels on the hierarchy, but the mataqali subdivisions are the basic
landowning social units. They own about 90% of the total land area in Fiji.
However when payment for land leases are made the chiefs of all the
other, higher social units get a hefty share, despite the fact that they are not
the owners of the leased land.
Although native land is owned by the mataqali, the leases are
administered by the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) established in 1940
under the Native Land Trust Act. The NLTB even has the power to lease
the land that is not required for occupation by the members of a mataqali
without the consent of the mataqali. Some of the excess land has historically
been used for growing sugar cane and other crops, mainly by descendants
of indentured Indians. More recently coastal land has been used for tourism
The formula for sharing the rent from the leases is 15% for the NLTB, 5%
for the chief of vanua, 10% for the chief of the yavusa and 15% for the
mataqali chief. The remaining 55% is shared amongst the members of the
mataqali (which can number in hundreds, Table 4).
Table 4. Distribution of rent amongst different levels of traditional land-owners
Unit Chief/Headman No. of families Share from lease
Native Lands Trust Board 15 %
Vanua Turaga-Ni-Taukai 1 5%
Yavusa (tribe) Turaga-Ni-Qali 1 10%
Mataqali (clan) Turaga-Ni-Mataqali 1 15%
Members of Mataqali Upto several 100s 55%
Totatoka (family group) 0%
On September 25, 2005 more than 300 people, mainly villagers from the
central highlands of Viti Levu, filled the Supreme Court room in Suva to
follow the F$52.3 million compensation case between Monasavu
landowners and the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA). Monasavu dam is
Fiji’s biggest hydro-project. The 80 MW power station about 60 kilometres
northwest of Suva supplies electricity to most parts of Viti Levu. 80–90%
of FEA’s customers on Viti Levu receive power generated at this site.
Before Monasavu dam was completed in 1983 Fiji depended mainly on
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 293
294 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
diesel-driven generators for its electricity supply. In 1982 Fiji generated
924 TJ (Terajoule) of its electricity supply through diesel generators. By
1986 this had come down to 67 TJ. Hydro-power increased from nothing
in 1982 to 1067 TJ in 1986 (Prasad 1998).
Even today FEA and its customers are very aware of the importance of
Monasavu dam. In drought years, when the water table of the dam is too
low to allow an outflow to run the generators, FEA has to switch back to
expensive diesel generators. High prices for fossil energy makes this an
expensive endeavor. Fiji has a huge hydro-power potential. High volcanic
mountains on all of the bigger islands, an average annual rainfall of more
than 4000 mm, and extensive water catchment areas in the very sparsely
populated interior parts of the major islands make ideal conditions for the
use of water for electricity generation. Not many countries in the Pacific
Island states are fortunate enough to have such extensive potentials for
hydro-power. It is estimated that Fiji’s total potential of hydro-power is
over 1 GW, more than 10 times the amount used at the moment.
Despite all these positive news Monasavu hydro-dam and other projects
there had been often in the limelight in recent years. Huge problems can
emerge when various institutional arrangements over land control and
management conflict with each other. It is not the conflicting water rights
that have created all the problems. The land on which the Monasavu dam
was built, the artificial lake that has submerged a lot of land as well as the
catchment to provide water to the Monasavu reservoir are under dispute
till today between the traditional landowners and the FEA.
When the Monasavu dam was constructed in the late 1970s an agreement
between the landowners and government representatives had been reached
that the landowners should be paid F$400 (US$238) per acre. FEA thus
holds the view that it bought the land on which the dam and the reservoir
is built for about F$1 million. Later however the landowners demanded a
compensation for the 22.500 acres of catchment area. They argued that
they were restricted in the use of the land as logging is prohibited to avoid
a siltation of the lake. In June 1998 violent clashes near the power station
brought the landowner’s demands into the national press. They demanded
an additional F$35 million compensation from the Fiji Government, and
threatened to close down the power station, if their demands were not met
(Daily Post, June 30, 1998). The Fiji Government then sent 100 armed
soldiers and riot police to the site (Daily Post, July 2, 1998), but also started
negotiations with the landowners about their claims (PACNEWS, July 8,
1998). Early October the Fiji Government offered the 19 land-owning
groups a compensation of F$10.3 million for their land and another F$4.3
million for the timber standing on the land as compensation for the loss of
productive use of the land (Fiji Times, Oct. 7, 1998). Some of the landowners
rejected this offer and started legal action against the Government. In
November the Fiji High Court issued an injunction to a group of Monasavu
landowners preventing the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) from paying
F$14.6 million compensation to the landowners until the matter is sorted
out by the court (PACNEWS, Nov. 10, 1998).
It took almost two years before the landowners of Monasavu again
appeared on the front-pages of Fiji’s newspapers. On May 19, 2000 Fiji
experienced its third coup d’état after the two military coups of 1987.
While coup leader George Speight and his followers kept the elected Fiji
Government hostage in the Parliament building for almost two months
Monasavu landowners again seized the power station, took FEA workers
hostage and stopped the flow of water from the dam (PINA Nius Online,
July 7, 2000). Although the military could get control over the dam by
August 10, most places in Viti Levu experienced frequent power blackouts
until the last week of August (Radio Australia, August 11 and 23, 2000).
After the military intervention to regain the dam the Fiji Army established
a permanent presence at the Monasavu dam. Despite that the Fiji
Government wanted to have the dispute settled. In August 2000 there had
been a meeting between FEA officials and the landowners, where the FEA
offered a compensation of F$52.8 million. In June 2001 the same amount
was reported in the national press. The Cabinet agreed to allow the FEA to
sign an agreement that sets the compensation at F$52.8 million to be paid
out over a 99-year period, provided that the landowners discontinue all
legal proceedings against the FEA and to refrain from disrupting FEA
work (Fiji Times, June 13, 2001). Despite all the positive announcements no
payment has been made until today.
Monasavu surely is the most spectacular case where land rights of
traditional landowners are conflicting with modern development efforts.
However it is by far not the only case. In recent years a large number of
such cases came up, and very often water- related issues were involved. In
a conflict comparable to the one in Monasavu landowners of the Wainiqeu
Mini-Hydro Scheme outside Labasa, the biggest town on Vanua Levu,
wanted the Fiji Electricity Authority to pay F$ 7,302,880 (US$ 3,373,931) as
compensation for the hydro-plants’s water catchment area. Also landowners
of the Navau water catchment area on Vanua Levu were demanding F$
2,851,680 (US$ 1,317,476) from the Government (Daily Post, Sept. 8, 2000).
In August 1999 another landowner group near Labasa had threatened to
block the road to the Benau reservoir and water treatment plant, if the
Government would not pay a compensation of F$150,000 for the land the
reservoir is build on (Fiji Times, September 1, 1999). In Suva the landowners
of the Wainibuku reservoir are demanding US$150,000 as compensation
for the PWD’s use of the land (Radio New Zealand International, June 5,
2003). Also the water supply in Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city, is at the
mercy of landowners. On April 15, 1999 landowners closed the pipeline
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 295
296 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
that brings water from the Varaqe Dam in the highlands near Lautoka to
the Suru Reservoir, which supplies water to Lautoka hospital, the main
city area and outer areas of the south (Daily Post, April 16, 1999). In early
2003, Qerelevu Hindu School had to close down as landowners demanded
money for the water supply of the school. For the past 30 years water for
the school had been drawn from the community water supply system of
Toge village, but then the landowners from the village stopped water
supply demanding a goodwill payment. The school’s headteacher is quoted
by Fiji Sun (Feb. 3): “Now, without any written order, the landowners are
demanding that we pay F$5,000 in goodwill and F$1,000 per household to
get water. After we informed them that it was impossible for us to pay, as
most of the people here can not afford it, they disconnected the water
supply. It’s almost three weeks now”.
Not only water supply of many places are threatened by high demands
of traditional landowners. In November 2000 landowners on which the
government owned Ratu Kadavulevu Secondary School is built demanded
F$0.5 million as goodwill payment to renew the lease for the land. They
threatened to close the school if the amount is not paid within a week. The
Government finally decided to pay F$196.000. For many years the Nadrau
landowning unit of Saunaka village near Nadi International Airport were
demanding compensation for the land Fiji’s biggest international airport is
built on. In 1999, when the Airport was privatized, they demanded F$48
million for the land. The conflict dragged on for a while and in July 2001
the landowners threatened to close down the airport if the Government
wouldn’t pay F$7 million compensation for the 434 acres of land. The
landowners argued that during World War II, when the airport was built
as an airfield used by the United States Air Force, they had given their land
for public use, but now it is used for commercial purposes and they want
to have a share in it (Daily Post, July 24, 2001). In August 2001 the
government finally agreed to pay F$1.1 million to the landowners.
In March 2001 it was decided to relocate the Sigatoka Hospital. To
renew the lease for the land the hospital had been built on the landowners
demanded goodwill payment of F$700,000. While the Government and
the Native Lands Trust Board (NLTB) had repeatedly pointed out that
Fiji’s land laws make no provision for such goodwill payments or any
other payments to facilitate the renewal of a lease, the NLTB apparently
had offered F$200,000 as a goodwill payment (Fiji Sun, April 1, 2004). The
cases are endless. Land is used more as an economic and political weapon.
However there is justification in some of the demands of traditional
landowners. Often they become victims of modernization, of a modern
administrative structure that just did not acknowledge their rights. As in
the case of Fiji’s mahogany plantations, the world biggest and worth
several hundred millions of dollars. When the lease was negotiated in the
1950s and 1960s the landowners just did not know how valuable the trees
were. No wonder that now – when the trees are ready for harvesting – they
have come up with their demands.
However there are also so many cases, when the landowners misuse
their powers. Such cases can be very small and only locally relevant like
the demands of landowners near Lautoka, who had erected road blocks
and were charging people one dollar each time they crossed the barrier.
The road in question serves about 80 families, a primary school, a Hindu
temple and a tourist attraction (Radio New Zealand International, May 7,
2003). A similar case occurred in the rural hinterland of Sigatoka, Fiji’s
salad bowl. A roadblock saw several hundred ethnic Indian farmers trapped
and being forced to pay US$20 each trip to reach markets or hospitals.
Finally the government agreed to pay US$14,000 to the landowners to lift
the roadblock (Radio New Zealand International, Feb. 25, 2003).
Other cases however are large enough to threaten Fiji’s economic and
political well-being, such as the expiry of land leases in Fiji’s major export
sector, the sugar economy. Land leases in the sugar sector are regulated by
the 1966 established Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Act (ALTA).
According to ALTA the lease expires after 30 years and the land goes back
to the landowners if the lease is not renewed. More than 6,000 leases expired
between 1997 and 2004 and a large number of them were not renewed. In
each individual case this meant the loss of livelihood for the family of a
sugarcane farmer. It also meant the loss of the home as the houses were built
on leased land too. Between 2005 and 2028 another 7100 sugarcane leases
will expire. In such cases farmers could convince the landowners to renew
their leases after a goodwill payment of several thousand dollars.
The reasons why the Fijian landowners are very reluctant to renew the
leases are complex. Sometimes they want to use the land for themselves,
e.g. to profit from the high subsidies the European Union gave sugar
producers in Fiji for decades. Often the landowners are no longer happy
with the rent payment that earns them between F$45 and F$480 per
hectare depending on the quality of land. The rent is not lower than what
would be paid in other countries, between 3 and 11% of the value of the
gross production, but the number of those who want to benefit from the
payment can be huge. A share of 15% straightaway goes to the NLTB,
another 30% to the different chiefs and the rest is distributed amongst the
members of the mataqali. The question here is how big the landowning
group is: there are cases where a member gets just F$2 from the rent, in
other cases this can be more than F$4,000. ‘Goodwill payments’ are therefore
welcomed, when the negotiations about the renewal of the lease are due.
What would be considered as blackmailing elsewhere has become common
practice in Fiji: to ensure that the lease is renewed a few thousand dollars
change owners, tax-free of course.
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 297
298 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
In many cases however there are obvious political motivations behind
the non-renewal of land leases. In 1975 Sakiasi Butadroka, leader of the
Fijian Nationalist Party brought in a motion in the Fiji Parliament to deport
all people of Indian descent back to India. Families who lived in Fiji for
three generations, people who never had been to India, without any land
or other form of property there. Although the motion was declined it
expresses fairly accurately the ethnic conflict in Fiji. On the one side there
are the indigenous Fijians. Many of them still live in rural areas in a semi-
subsistence agricultural economy. For them land rents are a way to improve
their cash income. On the other hand are the descendants of Indian
plantation workers. Many of them are still in the agricultural sector,
cultivating sugarcane on small holdings of not more than 4-5 hectares
which they have leased from indigenous landowners.
However it would be too simplistic to see the land and water conflicts
in Fiji mainly as the result of the ethnic conflicts of the country. There are
various conflict lines: the conflict between traditional leaders and the
modern state. Traditional leaders who want to get their share from the
development efforts of the state. They are powerful as traditionally they
can mobilize support from their kin and clan members. Also economically
the chiefs can count on their support as they get some of the lease money
or compensation. However in the end the chiefs are the ones who get the
major share, who get huge amounts. Politically they can find support with
their demands in Fiji’s parliament and from Fiji’s government, but only as
long as they hold the political power.
Such conflicts are not unique to Fiji. One can find them in many parts
of the Pacific Islands. Since many years the water and power supply of
Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea has been under constant
threat as landowners demand compensation for the land of the Rouna
hydro-electrical scheme and the Sirinumu water supply project (The Post-
Courier, Aug. 24, 2005). Earlier water and power supply to Port Moresby
had been frequently interrupted (The Post-Courier, Nov. 19, 2004). Similar
conflicts occur in the tourist town of Madan (The Post-Courier, April 2,
2003), and the two towns in PNG’s highlands, Goroka and Mt. Hagen (The
Post-Courier, Jan. 21, 2001).
In recent years similar conflicts occurred in Honiara, the capital of the
Solomon Islands. In June 2000 militants blew up a pumping station with
dynamite. As a result, 90% of the homes in Honiara were left without
water supply for more than a year (Radio Australia, March 24, 2002). In
November 2001 the landowners of the Kongulai water supply shut down
the supply of water to most parts of Honiara. While negotiations with the
government continued over months power and water were frequently
Insecure water supply in larger islands of Melanesia is the result of
conflicts in institutional arrangements such as property rights, scarcity of
financial resource and a lack of Good Governance and accountability in
water administration. Insecure water supply often is also the result of civil
unrest or even civil war. There are situations when naturally caused water
scarcity like ENSO-induced droughts can create difficulties for particular
sections of the societies in Melanesia, but proper resource management
and disaster mitigation efforts surely would be able to minimize these
problems as we can assume that enough water could be made available, if
a proper water resources management would exist.
The last case study looks at an environment that is much more vulnerable
to natural hazards than rather big, mountainous islands are. Coral atolls
are amongst the harshest environments on earth: flat ribbons of sand, little
land for an expanding population, with scarce freshwater supply;
supporting a limited range of vegetation making agriculture difficult and
restricted to a few crops, extreme geographic fragmentation and isolation
making transport and communications costly and difficult. South Tarawa,
the capital of Kiribati, is such an atoll island. Not only water-related
problems make one wonder how people can survive in such an adverse
environment. But they do, despite the fact that over time conditions do not
improve, but deteriorate.
The Republic of Kiribati consists of 33 islands spread over three island
groups, the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands. 32 of the islands are coral
islands or coral atolls, while one, Banaba, is a raised island. All the three
groups are often subject to severe droughts (Rapaport, 1990).
With a land area of about 800 km2 Kiribati belongs to the world’s
smallest states. However is stretches over almost 5,000 km from East to
West and more than 2,000 km from North to South. The Exclusive Economic
Zone is more than 3.5 million km2, giving Kiribati’s territory an expansion
comparable to the land area of the USA. Most of the islands are not more
than 2 km wide and less than 5 m above sea level. There are only four
flights a week in and out of the country. Distance and access to markets are
challenges of a magnitude faced by few countries. This is even true
internally, where it is difficult to maintain a communication and transport
network that covers the entire territory of the country. Kiribati has the
largest atoll population in the Pacific with about 85,000 people in the last
census of 2000. The annual growth rate between 1995-2000 had been 1.7%
with high urban growth rates (UN 2002).
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 299
300 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
The resource base is very narrow. The climate and poor soil offer little
potential for agricultural or industrial development. The public sector
dominates all spheres of economic activity. Fishing licensing fees are the
major source of foreign exchange and government revenue. However
compared to the annul value of Kiribati’s tuna resources that are caught by
foreign fishing vessels,the US$20 million that the Kiribati’s Government
is getting for issuing fishing licenses is rather low (Islands Business
Magazine, Feb. 11, 2005). Import duties and remittances from I-Kiribati
employed in foreign shipping fleets provide significant additional
government revenue and foreign exchange, respectively. The population is
concentrated in the Gilbert Islands Group, which includes Tarawa, the
capital. Soon a half of the population will live in South Tarawa, while the
Phoenix Group is virtually uninhabited. If present trends continue,
population will double within 20 years presenting even greater
challenges to overcome environmental and health problems, particularly
in Tarawa.
The scattered nature of the islands, isolation from each other and the
region, poor soil and harsh climate, pose a big development challenge to
the government of Kiribati and its people. Kiribati ranks 11th of 14 Pacific
island countries and 129th in the world in the UNDP’s Human Development
Index. In terms of infant mortality and child morbidity, per capita GDP,
and access to water and sanitation, Kiribati is among the lowest in the
region (UN 2002).
Amongst the most restricting factors for development is the scarcity of
freshwater. Rainfall is very unevenly distributed within and between the
years. Droughts that can last ten months or more are common in Kiribati
(Metutera, 2002). With an increase in population Kiribati’s very fragile
freshwater lens has become extremely vulnerable to depletion, intrusion
of seawater, contamination with sewerage and other pollutants and is
causing severe health problems. This is especially true for South Tarawa,
Kiribati’s capital, a place with the highest population density in the Pacific
South Tarawa – A Thirsty Capital
Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Group consists of more than 20 islands, of
which 8 are inhabited. The western part from Bonriki, where Kiribati’s
international airport is located to Betio with the port and the copra mill,
Tarawa’s only industry worth mentioning, is called South Tarawa. This
stretch of Tarawa is about 35 km long. Various causeways connect the
islands of South Tarawa from Betio to Bairiki. The longest is the Betio-
Bairiki Causeway with 3.4 km. It was built in the middle of the 1980s by
a Japanese company.
Most of the land is less than 3 metres above sea level, with an average
width of only 430-450 metres. About half of Kiribati’s population of 93,100
people live on South Tarawa’s land area of 12,56 km2. Migration from outer
islands of Kiribati resulted in an annual population growth rate of 5.2%.
Should this rate continue South Tarawa’s population will double in just 13
years reaching 73,400 by 2013 (Haberkorn, 2004).
The 2000 census counted a population of 84,494 for the whole of Kiribati,
an average growth rate of 1.7% per year from 1995-2000 with an urban
growth of 5.2% and rural decline of 0.6%. South Tarawa had 36,717 people
or 44% of the national population compared to 37% only five years earlier
(UN 2002). When Tarawa became the capital of the Gilbert and Ellice
Islands Colony in 1947 South Tarawa had a population of 1,643, representing
6% of Kiribati’s population (Lea/Connel, 1995). Environmental problems
(water quality; waste; sanitation; lagoon pollution) are created by South
Tarawa’s congestion. Crowded and unsanitary conditions contribute to a
high incidence of diarrhoeal diseases with more than 700–800 reported
cases per month (Hunt, 1996) and a high death rate especially among
young children.
Although the exact number is not known a big share of South Tarawa’s
population live as squatters, especially those who in the last decades
migrated to Tarawa from the outer islands. A concentration of squatter
settlements is in the area of Betio, Bairiki and Bikenibeu. In Betio it is
estimated that more than one-third of all households are squatters. Squatting
occurs mainly on Government leased or owned lands such as along
causeways, foreshore areas and areas adjoining rubbish dumping sites. On
Government leased lands, ‘informal’ housing arrangements based on
kinship obligations can be made with landowners, despite the fact that the
land has been leased to the Government. Most squatters lack access to
land, water supply and sanitation facilities. Based on population estimates,
the number of housing plots required to accommodate the proposed 2010
population is in excess of 2,000 units (Urban Management Plan, 1995).
The extremely dense, congested and unregulated housing arrangements
have contributed to many health, social and environment problems. The
2000 census records an average household size of 6.7 persons for the
whole of Kiribati. However in South Tarawa 8.1 persons live on an average
in a household. More than 30% of all households have more than 10
persons. The negative impact on Tarawa’s water supply is surely the most
serious one. Most of the water is pumped from a subterranean water lens
in the northern and eastern parts of Tarawa. Some of the lenses are already
so polluted that they are no longer safe to use (ADB 2004) and others are
significantly overstretched by growing demand, illegal connections, spread
of settlements onto land above the water lens, and the widespread use of
pit and water seal toilets. A traditional I-Kiribati practice is to use the sea
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 301
302 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
as a toilet. In many of the squatters’ houses there are no proper toilet
facilities. On islands that are less populated this poses little risk to public
health but on over-crowded Tarawa, where 53% of households regularly
use the beach, it has created serious health problems (UN 2002).
Water Supply in South Tarawa
There are three different sources for potable water available to the
population of South Tarawa: rainwater, ground/well water and reticulated
water. In addition to this there had also been a number of trials with
desalination which technically turned out to be too risky to entirely depend
on. Two of the three desalination plants broke down soon after installation
and it took months to get spare parts from overseas to repair them (Metutera,
Rainwater is used in Kiribati as a supplementary water source since
long. The collection of rainwater is a more efficient way to produce
freshwater than groundwater extraction. To rely entirely on rainwater is
rather risky. Unequal distribution of precipitation can lead to months-long
drought and storage facilities are not large enough to help bridge such
events. However rainwater collection can reduce the pressure on other
water resources, especially the one on the freshwater lenses.
The reticulated water is extracted from the freshwater lenses at Buata
and Bonriki (north to the airport) at a maximum rate of 1,250 cubic metres
per day. In 1989 the sustainable yield for the two pumping zones had been
estimated at 950 cubic metre a day. In 1992 a review was carried out and
after that the sustainable yields estimates were 1000 and 300 cubic meters
a day for Bonriki and Buata respectively. The latest calculations (2002) hint
at a sustainable yield 1700 m3/day (Bonriki: 1350 m3/day, Buota: 350 m3/
day) (Metutera, 2002). There are more than 3,500 connections that provide
1-2 hours of water each in the morning, at lunch time and in the evenings.
(Urban Management Plan 1995). As reticulated water is not available
around the clock there is still a very heavy reliance on traditional wells
and the collection of rainwater. According to the 1990 census for 49% of all
households in South Tarawa wells were the major sources of water supply,
while 35% used mainly rainwater (Urban Management Plan 1995). A
problem with intermittent water supply is that an equitable distribution of
water cannot be achieved this way. Those living close to the elevated tank/
reservoir will always receive more water than those living downstream
who receive little water or no water at all.
South Tarawa’s water problems grow as fast as the population does. In
2000 water demand for a population of 36,227 persons was 1159 m3/day.
Even if Kiribati’s government finds means to slow down the population
growth on South Tarawa, more than 2100 m3/day will be required by 2020
to ensure 40 litres water per head and day. If population increases at the
present rate there will be almost 100,000 persons living on South Tarawa
in 2020, 7,600 persons per km2, consuming 3151 m3 water per day, almost
three times of the demand in 2000.
It is estimated that the present freshwater lenses can meet South Tarawa’s
water demand until 2010. Beyond that new water sources have to be found
or developed. North Tarawa, which at present is not used to procure water
for the capital might be a solution (Fig. 8). An estimated sustainable yield
of 3450 m3/day could be achieved there. Extracting water from lenses in
North Tarawa however might become expensive and time consuming as
the landowners in North Tarawa are hesitant to lease or sell their land to
the Government (Metutera, 2002).
Fig. 8. Present and potential groundwater sources on Tarawa
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 303
304 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
One of the most serious problems connected with traditional wells is
the danger of polluted groundwater. Open hand-dug wells are the
traditional methods used by the people of I-Kiribati to obtain freshwater.
As the depth from the surface to the groundwater table is only a few
metres and the soil is fairly easy to excavate open wells are easy to
construct. Wells constructed in this way have the obvious drawback that
water can easily get contaminated (Metutera, 2002). Surface pollution is
widespread from septic tanks, latrine pits, domestic waste as well as open
human and animal defecation especially from pigs. In areas of South
Tarawa with high population densities all the remaining old open dug
wells are now a severe health hazard. The poor quality of well water is
reflected in the very high rates of diarrhea throughout South Tarawa.
Polluted water was the reason why the former water lenses in Betio and
Teaoraereke were closed for the reticulated water supply.
The pumping zones for South Tarawa’s water supply are away from
highly populated areas. In addition to this a number of technical and
institutional measures have been started to protect the freshwater lenses
that contribute to South Tarawa’s reticulated water supply. In order to
protect the freshwater lenses in the areas that provide reticulated water
for South Tarawa a Water Reserves Committee has established a 50 meter
‘setback zone’ around each zone as water reserves. The dwellers of informal
settlements within these zones were asked to resettle voluntarily, which
turned out to be rather difficult in some cases, as alternative vacant land
is very scarce in Tarawa. In addition new migrants arriving from outer
islands are putting extra pressure on available open land areas and the
newcomers are eyeing the cleared reserves in the setback zones with
increasing interest (ADB 2004). Also cultural issues contributed to the
problems of the project. Like many atoll societies the I-Kiribati society is
Fig. 9. South Tarawa’s water supply system.
very egalitarian. The major social units are extended families, where values
like cooperation, solidarity and reciprocity play very important roles
(Frisbie, 1921). The resettlement of squatter communities within the water
reserve zones turned out to be difficult also because I-Kiribati culture
expects people to be modest and humble, and not placing oneself above
others. Even forcing squatters to leave protected areas thus is against
cultural norms of the people of Kiribati (ADB 2004; White et al., 1999).
To allow the freshwater lenses to recharge faster the South Tarawa
Water Supply System has used infiltration galleries since the late 1960s (for
technical details, see Metutera, 2002; White, 1996; White et al., 1999). The
galleries consist of some form of horizontally laid permeable conduit to
allow water to infiltrate from the surrounding saturated zone. An open
area such as Tarawa’s airport acts as a catchment that can rapidly recharge
the aquifer after heavy rains.
Altogether there are 24 infiltration galleries strengthening South Tarawa’s
water supply, six on Buota and eighteen on Bonriki. The length of each of
the galleries using perforated pipes is about 300 m. Thus the total length
of the galleries is 5,100 m for Bonriki and 1,800 m for Buota.
Water quality in South Tarawa is closely connected to the quality of
sewerage treatment/disposal. A reticulated sewerage system had already
been introduced in South Tarawa between 1978 and 1982 in response to a
major cholera epidemic in 1977. The system covers only areas of Betio,
Bairiki and Bikenibeu, the most populated parts of South Tarawa, about
30% of the size and 60-70% of the population. “In reality however, the
coverage in these urban centers is mainly limited to the low density
permanent houses, Government building and communal toilet blocks”
(Metutera, 2002). The households connected to the system use salt water
for toilet flushing, which discharge into three separate ocean outfalls over
the reef edge.
The water supply system like the sewerage system is under increasing
strain and already operating above capacity. Lack of financial resources,
spare parts and expertise has deteriorated the system. Pump stations are
frequently out of functioning, sewer mains are leaking with salt water and
sewage, the communal toilet blocks are in a state of disrepair having been
vandalized or just let to run down with salt water pipe leakages, structures
collapsing and an estimated 70% of cisterns broken (Urban Management
Plan 1995).
Global Climate Change and Water Resources
Like many atoll islands Kiribati is also highly vulnerable to global climate
change. The 2001 synthesis report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change concludes that global warming is underway. It is very
Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 305
306 Water: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation?
likely to increase during this century at rates unprecedented in the past
10,000 years. For small islands, the IPCC warns of deteriorating coral reefs,
mangroves, and sea-grass beds; major species loss; worsening water balance
in atoll nations such as Kiribati; and declines in vital reef fisheries. For the
Pacific islands as a whole, the World Bank warns of reductions in
agricultural output, declines in groundwater quantity and quality,
substantial health impacts (increased diarrhea, dengue fever and fish
poisoning), extensive capital damage due to storm surges, and lost fish
production. Countries like Kiribati and the neighboring Tuvalu are predicted
to suffer the greatest impact of climate change including disappearance in
the worst case scenario. Although most media attention has focused on sea
level rise, the expected impacts – particularly for atolls – are likely to be
reduced agricultural output (due to changing rainfall patterns and increased
temperatures), a decline in groundwater quantity and quality (sea level
rise and possibly drought) (IPCC 2001). The World Bank concludes that:
“Managing change will be particularly critical in the area of climate change,
a subject of immense and immediate impact on Pacific Island countries.
Choosing a development path that decreases the islands’ vulnerability to
climate events and maintains the quality of the social and physical
environment will not only be central to the future well being of the Pacific
Island people, but will also be a key factor in the countries’ ability to attract
foreign investment in an increasingly competitive global economy” (World
Bank, 2000).
All atolls in Kiribati will be severely affected by global climate change.
As infrastructure is most developed in Tarawa it is expected that the
material losses will be highest there. By 2050 Tarawa could experience
annual damages of about US$8-US$16 million. “In years of strong storm
surge, Tarawa could face capital losses of up to US$430 million in land and
infrastructure assets destroyed by inundation. Relocation of communities
might be the need if the loss of land and freshwater supplies becomes
critical. Climate change is thus likely to place a substantial burden on the
people and economy of Kiribati. The projected losses could be catastrophic
for a country with a 1998 GDP of only US$47 million” (World Bank 2000).
Global climate change affects Tarawa through variations in sea-level,
rainfall, evapo-transpiration and through extreme weather events. In a
worst case scenario with a sea-level rise by 0.4 meters, a decline of rainfall
by 10% and a reduction of the width of the atoll the thickness of the
groundwater lens could decline by as much as 38% (World Bank 2000).
Global climate change is surely the biggest threat to many of the Pacific
Island states, not only to the small, low atoll islands. The case studies
above however show that many severe problems around a safe and secure
water supply exist throughout the Pacific Islands. Problems severe enough
to threaten the existence of settlements in particular places, and to endanger
the livelihoods of big proportions of Pacific Island populations. Especially
in fast growing urban areas in the Pacific Islands the gap between demand
and supply of water is increasing rapidly. However one needs to be aware
that water supply is only one of many issues that affect the well-being of
the urban population. The major problems in urban centers in the Pacific
include a serious shortage of land and conflicts with traditional land
tenure, falling standards of infrastructure, an increase in the number of
squatter settlement and informal housing, poverty, vulnerability and
environmental degradation (UNEP 1999). It is very likely that these
problems not only continue to exist, but that they are becoming bigger
even when huge investments are made to improve living conditions. The
future especially for urban areas in the Pacific Island thus does not look too
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Water in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Fiji and Kiribati 309
... There are many islands and isolated coastal areas without reliable access to electricity worldwide [1,2]. For example, it has been reported that only around 70% of the dwellers in small islands in the Pacific Ocean could access electricity [2]. ...
... For example, it has been reported that only around 70% of the dwellers in small islands in the Pacific Ocean could access electricity [2]. Even the residents in islands who are able to use electricity mainly depend on diesel-powered electric generators that generally show less than 40% efficiency [1,3] and high costs due to the additional fuel transportation cost from the mainland [4]. These energy-poor regions also can face water shortage issues since they are vulnerable to climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rises, and temperature increases [5]. ...
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There are many islands without full access to electricity around the world. These energy-poor regions generally have drinking water supply issues too. Renewable energy-powered desalination units can convert seawater to freshwater by using such as oceanic wave energy to mitigate the water limitation in small islands. A novel wave-powered floating desalination system (WavoWater) was proposed for easy on-site deployment and minimal environmental impact. WavoWater can produce freshwater using a vacuum-applied air-gap membrane distillation (AGMD) system, and the heat needed for the AGMD is provided through a heat pump powered by wave energy. Small-scale experiments were conducted to estimate the water generation rate of the vacuum-applied AGMD, and the WavoWater system modeling was developed based on the experimental results and wave data observed near the City of Newport, OR, USA. Fast Fourier transform was applied to estimate the wave energy spectrum in a random sea wave state. It was evaluated that 1 m-diameter WavoWater can produce 12.6 kg of fresh water per day with about 3.1 kWh of wave energy. With the performance evaluation, the aspects of zero discharging and minimal environmental impact were also highlighted for the stand-alone wave-powered desalination system.
... Lau et al. 2016, Ochsenkühn et al. 2021; water policies and integrated water resources management (IWRM) (e.g. Falkland and Brunel 1993, Falkland 1999, Burns 2002, Weber 2007, White 2010, White and Falkland 2010, Marshall et al. 2020, Mitchell et al. 2021; and ridge-to-reef studies (e.g. GEF 2015; Delevaux andStamoulis 2020, Fache andPauwel 2022). ...
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... The PICs are surrounded by the largest and the deepest ocean in the worldthe Pacific Ocean (NOAA, 2021), yet, people do not have access to safe drinking water. Pacific Island consists of 22 countries with ~550,000 km 2 of land area (Weber, 2007), of which some selected country profiles are given in Table 1 and the map of PICs are shown in Fig. 1. The rise in sea level, climate change and water usage has mandated us to do a thorough review, largely focusing on groundwater crisis, challenges and solutions in PICs. ...
Population growth and rapid industrialization have imposed excessive demand for groundwater in Pacific Island countries (PICs). To meet this demand, over pumping of groundwater is practised in majority of the PICs, which eventually causes saltwater intrusion (SWI) in coastal aquifers. The geographical location of PICs makes them more vulnerable to natural means of SWI. However, anthropogenic activities also cause groundwater contamination in PICs. The main objectives of this review are to identify the water sources in PICs, the major challenges groundwater faces, and solutions or strategies for monitoring, management, and prevention of the identified challenges. This study has revealed that SWI is highly common in PICs and that there is a knowledge gap with limited research on groundwater. This review also highlights that with the use of the latest technologies, 3D modeling, simulation–optimization techniques, artificial intelligence, relevant policies and regulations on groundwater and mass awareness will help in monitoring, managing and preventing SWI and other ways of contamination in coastal aquifers for PICs.
... Another important aspect regarding the scattered population in remote coastal areas and isolated islands is the energy distribution without centralized power supply. In general, solar insolation in many of those regions is plentiful, being an essential renewable energy source ( Weber, 2007 ). Meanwhile for MD, the thermal energy demand is low-grade, usually between 30 °C and 90 °C ( Cai and Guo, 2017 ). ...
Membrane distillation (MD) has been proven promising in solar-driven desalination. Moreover, its unique characteristics such as simple process, module compactness, high salt rejection rate, etc. allow for a small-scale device in a distributed system. Both theoretical and experimental researches on the coupling between solar collectors and MD aiming at compact and autonomous desalination system have been devoted to enhance freshwater productivity and energy efficiency. In this paper, certain critical gaps are summarized upon a panoramic review of the current status, including limited production and energy performance compared with commercial-scale desalination, unclear relation between solar collecting area and membrane area, and few discussions on efficient condensation, etc. To tackle these challenges, perspectives on the essential future research directions are proposed. Solar direct heating and solar concentration constitute the possible resolution to enhance solar energy utilization for higher water production, which also raise the question of optimizing solar/MD areas. Meanwhile, module stacking, module internal heat recovery and external evaporation heat recovery are deemed prospective in further reducing MD energy consumption. Subsequently, an enhanced vapor condensation needs more exploration. Those aspects and a potential combination among them are the main tasks in the near future, together with more field tests on small distributed solar-driven MD systems.
... 84 Water scarcity issues have also caused conflicts in Fiji, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea. 85 The forced re-population of Banabans to Fiji after the Second World War highlights the complexity of this issue. Although not due to climate change, the forced migration of Banabans resulted in land rights issues, as well as ethnic tensions in Rabi, the island to which they were relocated. ...
Technical Report
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SDG16 in the Pacific: Strengthening and legitimising institutions to achieve sustainable development. Strengthening and increasing the legitimacy of institutions and the rule of law is fundamental for development outcomes in the Pacific region. This is especially true with significant changes projected relating to the environment, demographics and socio-economics. Strong institutions are essential to respond to these changes. However, institution building can be slow and challenging and resources are limited. Measurement of progress will help guide decision making and prioritisation. There are challenges to measurement in the region including vast geographic spreads, high cultural and linguistic diversity, small and sometimes remote populations and relatively low internal capacity. This necessitates innovative approaches to measurement.
... The subsequent bloodshed resulted in hundreds of deaths, as well as the displacement of more than 30,000 people during a five year period. 53 Water scarcity issues have also caused conflicts in Fiji, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea.54 ...
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This report aims to measure peace in the Pacific. It also seeks to enhance our understanding of the existing data and capacity to measure Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report is part of a larger research project by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Outlined within the report is why Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) is important to the Pacific, the data currently available to measure SDG16 and key challenges the Pacific region faces in measuring progress against SDG16.
... China and India have more than one third of the globally irrigated areas. There as well as in other developing countries irrigation areas have come under great stress due to land degradation and conflicts over water distribution between and within countries (Weber, 2007;1997;1991;Weber & Hoffmann, 1997). ...
... Climate change impacts have a potential to trigger migration. Droughts, floods, and other extreme natural hazards affect food security, health, create or intensify degradation to land and water resources (Weber [104,105]). People respond to such threats and risks in various ways. ...
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Climate change and related sea-level rise has caused fears that many people in the Pacific Islands might become homeless. However it is difficult to say who is more afraid: politicians of countries that are potential destinations of environmental refugees or affected people, who realize that it is not at all a pleasure to lose the home, and that it might be even a bigger nightmare to become a refugee. While in low-lying Pacific Island countries (PICs) debates and discourses about people’s future flare up the fear of becoming homeless and refugees is worrying many. It seems that governments whose countries could become preferred destinations of climate change refugees are concerned how to keep them away from reaching safe harbors. In 2001 the Australian Government started its Pacific Solution, a policy that should prevent aliens arriving by boat in Australia to seek the status of refugees. The Australian Government has established detention centers on the Pacific Islands of Manus (PNG) and Nauru to process asylum seekers outside Australian territory. In 2013 a new element was added to the Pacific Solution: refugees arriving on boats will be processed and settled in PNG or Nauru (or countries other than Australia), if found to be genuine refugees. Others can be detained for unspecified time. Migrants’ well-being is not only based on material conditions, but also reflects on emotional ones. The inhumane treatment of refugees increases angst amongst those who are threatened to lose their homes as a result of climate change and depend on support from other countries.
... Such orographic influences on the spatial and temporal distribution of moisture have important implications for water resource availability and provision (Weber, 2007), mainly because the majority of rural populations across developing Pacific islands continue to rely on rainwater harvesting and small flashy streams for daily water needs (Terry and Raj, 1998). Because of this dependence on seasonally-unreliable sources, often coupled with increasing pressure on available water resources from growing populations, improving our understanding of the physical controls on island streamflow behaviour will contribute an important element to Pacific Island-style integrated water resources management (IWRM) . ...
Within the tropical South Pacific islands, meaningful examination of how mountain barriers influence river flow characteristics has not previously been attempted, owing principally to the lack of reliable long-term data from an adequate number of basins that are geographically spread across opposing sides of a major topographic divide. The island of La Grande Terre in New Caledonia provides an exception, since robust flow records with effective durations between 15 and 52 years are available for 22 monitored rivers draining both sides of a massif dividing range. Cross-island differences in several fundamental hydrological parameters were statistically analysed, including runoff coefficients, median daily discharges and specific flood flows. Results identify that significant flow contrasts exist between windward versus leeward basins, which are not necessarily revealed by observing patterns of rainfall distribution over the island.
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Pacific Island communities have adapted to floods, droughts and cyclones over many generations. Small and low-lying islands are particularly exposed to natural disasters, and many countries have limited access to water resources. Anthropogenic climate change is expected to further increase these environmental pressures. Any associated engineering response needs to consider the cultural, societal and historical context, and prioritise the agency of local communities to determine their preferred outcomes. It follows that Humanitarian Engineering, a discipline centred around strengths-based and context-appropriate solutions, has an important role to play in climate change adaptation. In this review, the interplay between hydroclimatology, geography and water security in the Pacific Islands is described and projected climate shifts summarised to highlight future adaptation challenges. A key source of uncertainty relates to the dynamics of two convergence zones that largely drive weather patterns. A broad overview of societal factors that present challenges and opportunities for Humanitarian Engineers is given. Finally, actions are recommended to inform climate change adaptation given the scientific uncertainty around hydrologic risks, and outline lessons for best practice Humanitarian Engineering in the Pacific. Enhancing data sharing, building resilience to climate variability and integrating traditional knowledge with convention engineering methods should be key areas of focus. HIGHLIGHTS Water resource climate change adaptation options are reviewed using a Humanitarian Engineering lens for the Pacific.; Large uncertainties in future changes to the ITCZ, SPCZ and ENSO have major implications for adaptation in the Pacific.; Hydroclimatology research gaps include the relationship between island geography and changes to rainfall extremes, and changes in evapotranspiration for drought assessments.; Scenario-based approaches to understand system thresholds under climate change are promising, but require access to long-term data records.; Appropriate climate adaptation options need to be developed using a strengths-based approach, considering cultural values, land tenure arrangements and institutional structures.;
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This paper uses examples from the Pacific to discuss sustainable water management ìn small islands. Population centres in small islands have water supply problems that are amongst the most critical in the world. Limited land areas severely restrict surface water storages. Freshwater is extremely vulnerable to natural processes and human activities. Limited land areas also restrict freshwater quantities, particularly in frequent ENSO-related droughts. Demand for water is increasing due to both natural population growth and to growing urbanisation. There are few water professionals in many small island nations, policy and institutional frameworks are deficient and community participation in water management is minimal. Water use for agriculture competes with community water supplies. Limited resources and geographic isolation restrict the potential for irrigated crop exports so that reliance on aid is systemic. At the core of water management problems are land tenure and the conflict between the requirements of urbanised societies and the traditional values and rights of subsistence communities. Reforms of governance and the provision of knowledge to communities are critical. Long-term partnerships are needed which promote self-reliance. Multi Agent Systems offer potential for reducing conflicts over water. Regional organisations, able to foster self-support, can play a crucial role in developing island-adopted and owned solutions.
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The Climate Change 2001 volumes of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC provide the most comprehensive assessment of climate change since its second report, Climate Change 1995. This Synthesis Report gives a comprehensive summary of the main points of the three separate volumes of the Report: The Scientific Basis; Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability; and Mitigation.
The combination of rising sea level and increased storminess that is expected to accompany changes in global climate due to the greenhouse effect may well have severe impacts on low-lying coral islands in tropical oceans. This paper deals principally with the atoll island states of Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu which comprise only coral-rubble islands with land rarely rising more than 3m above present sea level. Their combined populations are about 300 000, and since colonial times, island economies have not achieved self-sufficiency. Presently they are substantially dependent on foreign aid and remittances from islanders who work overseas. The situation is worsening as natural resources decline, populations grow, aspirations for better living standards increase and the terms of trade worsen. Atoll island ecology and the ability to sustain human habitation depend in large part on fresh ground water reserves which are related to island size. Ground water degradation due to greenhouse-induced coastal erosion and inundation of low-lying ground will further reduce agricultural productivity and other island resources. The economic and social viability of atoll island states in the future is therefore doubtful; their people may become the first environmental refugees of the greenhouse era. -Authors
Contamination of the coastal environment of small island countries is of concern because people's livelihoods in these countries are intimately linked to the resources of the coastal zone. The Lami estuary in Fiji is located downstream of an industrial area and is used extensively for fishing and other recreational activities. Sediment samples from twenty-nine sites within the area were analysed for copper, lead and zinc to determine whether the area is contaminated with heavy metals. Within the estuary, significant enrichment is evident, with heavy metal concentrations exceeding some of those from other known contaminated sites in the country. Although copper contamination appears to be restricted to a few sites within the estuary, contamination with lead and zinc seems to be spreading to areas further away from the shore. Metal distribution patterns clearly indicate adjacent factories to be the main source of contamination. The results show that contrary to popular belief, highly contaminated sites do exist in the relatively pristine coastal environments of island countries like Fiji.