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In Vanuatu, the Climate Crisis presents new challenges around access to safe water.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) is: CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Worldwide, 2 out of 5 people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water at home. And 1 out of 4 health-care facilities lack basic drinking water services. 

On Vanuatu’s 85 islands, many people live in sanitation environments made all the more challenging as a result of the Climate Crisis, including areas that are drought or flood-prone, coastal, on hard rock, with high groundwater or in difficult social contexts. These challenges are exacerbated by natural disasters and extreme weather events such as the category five cyclone which severely damaged buildings and critical infrastructure in 2015.

Access to clean water doesn’t just prevent the spread of disease, it’s also linked to a range of positive social and economic outcomes including increased school attendance (SDG4 Quality Education), employment and food security, reduced hunger and poverty (SDG1 End Poverty and SDG2 Zero Hunger), and even energy production (SDG7 Affordable and Clean Energy).

Only 28% of Vanuatu schools have good condition toilets. About half of the population lack access to basic sanitation.

The Environmental Health Unit (EHU) team from the Vanuatu Ministry of Health (MoH) has been focused on developing national hygiene and sanitation guidelines and standards for rural areas to improve consistency in sanitation interventions, as well as the quality of sanitation designs, accountability and monitoring. EWB has assisted the EHU team in their work, along with other key partners from the Sanitation and Hygiene Working Group, such as UNICEF, WHO, local communities and a range of non-government organisations (NGOs). 

Sanna Province government officials have stated that:

‘We need to have one standard for all NGOs and communities to ensure better quality of toilets.’

‘We need to ensure quality for sustainable products, not breaking down after the project’s life cycle.’

Since mid-2018 EWB has been involved in developing sanitation guidelines, as part of the Sanitation in Challenging Environments (SCE) program. Before the guidelines can be finalised and approved by the Executive Committee, a testing phase in community is vital to ensure the guidelines are appropriate in the local context. Thanks to field trials and the helpful user feedback, good progress has been achieved.

Vanuatu Program Manager, Stephanie Hamel, coordinates meetings with key stakeholders at the provincial and national level, collecting feedback on sanitation designs and ensuring guidelines receive an appropriate level of practitioners’ input, that the information is comprehensive and clear, and that it will be readily adopted at every level.

Field testing has involved socialisation workshops in Sanma and Malampa Provinces, where Stephanie and the EHU team have overseen the construction of various types of demonstration toilets.

The first of these was constructed in Sanma Province: a ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine with an additional tap inside the toilet so women can have privacy to wash menstrual clothing. In Malampa Province, at a location where more water is available, a pour flush toilet was constructed in a health centre. This toilet type is useful when water is available for flushing but not reliable enough to feed a flush system with a septic tank. A simple VIP latrine was also constructed in a school nearby. The construction of an inclusive toilet (accessible to people with disabilities, in particular wheelchair users) with a septic tank in Sheffa Province is already in the works.

Specific learnings from the trial constructions and workshops were:

  • improved bills of quantities and standard drawings,
  • user preferences regarding inclusive design features,
  • an understanding of both the importance of the design criteria and levels of information required to operate, and
  • maintenance posters were created.

To ensure the guidelines are enforceable, they are listed as a specific direction under the Public Health Amendment Act (part 8) with government enforced penalties for failure to comply.

On track, the project will deliver guidelines in Vanuatu’s three official languages. Communities across Vanuatu will be better able to mitigate some of the increasing challenges they experience as a result of the Climate Crisis.

You can help fund projects like these in the communities EWB partners with in Vanuatu, Timor Leste and Cambodia.

This project receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)

Pictured: Bucket Tap and drain for menstrual hygiene in ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine in Sanma.