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Building resilience in water and sanitation key to managing COVID-19 in the Pacific

  • Building resilience in water and sanitation key to managing COVID-19 in the Pacific

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Asian Development Bank
ADB assists its members, and partners, by providing loans, technical assistance, grants, and equity investments to promote social and economic development.

Utility companies that deliver water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services in the urban areas of the Pacific region need to invest more and plan their business continuity and water safety programs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new ADB report.

The Review of Opportunities for the Pacific WASH Sector, which looks at the impact of the pandemic on the WASH sector in ADB’s 14 Pacific developing member countries (DMCs), has proposed strategic directions to help build a more resilient and sustainable WASH sector, as the region manages the spread of the virus and at the same time reopens borders to revitalize economies.

“The WASH sector plays a key role in enabling a healthier population in the Pacific and in building the countries’ resilience to public health emergencies such as COVID-19,” said ADB Pacific Department’s Urban Water and Sanitation Division Director Jingmin Huang.

ADB will continue to provide both immediate support and longer-term assistance, including helping in business continuity planning for utilities, water safety planning, sector coordination, installation of handwashing facilities in public places and schools, behavioral change communication campaigns, and others to assist both governments and utilities in delivering effective and sustainable WASH programs.

The report calls for deepening engagement in policy issues and governance, more investment in the sector, stronger synergies between water supply, sanitation, and public health sectors, and better knowledge-sharing partnerships. Targeting WASH interventions with defined sustainability plans to ensure continuity of services, implementing monitoring frameworks, and conducting impact assessments are key priority actions that countries need to take.

The report notes that special efforts are needed to identify at-risk populations—the poor and people with underlying health issues—and target them with WASH interventions. The report raises the need for better collaboration between public health agencies and the water and sanitation service providers across the Pacific.

The report outlines country-specific opportunities that will improve water supply, sanitation, and hygiene:

  • In the Federated States of Micronesia, ADB is working with Southern Yap Water Authority to install over 80 gender-sensitive and socially inclusive handwashing stations in public places and schools. Support to the water utilities for business continuity planning and pandemic planning is recommended.
  • In Fiji, government support to review and improve WASH surveillance programming and data management is encouraged. The Water Authority of Fiji’s (WAF) business continuity and pandemic plans have been adopted and rolled out and the WAF may also benefit from strengthening its community engagement department to improve WASH service delivery in areas receiving intermittent water supply.
  • In Kiribati, the enabling environment for the ADB- and World Bank-financed South Tarawa Water Supply Project will be boosted by supporting the Public Utilities Board on operational and technical issues, such as business continuity planning, water safety planning, pandemic response planning, asset management, chlorination, and improved maintenance of power and WASH infrastructure.
  • In Nauru, ADB  has supported the government to update its WASH policy and prepare water and sanitation codes in anticipation of the proposed ADB-funded Nauru Sustainable Urban Development Project. Monitoring of the quality of water in household storage tanks is recommended.
  • In Papua New Guinea, Water PNG may be assisted by expanding sustainable WASH services to urban informal settlements, and schools in Port Moresby and Lae by installing water tanks and handwashing stations.
  • In Samoa, the Ministry of Health may benefit from support in improving monitoring of drinking water quality and health surveillance of waterborne diseases, and strengthening governance and technical operations of village water committees in partnership with the Independent Water Schemes Association.
  • In Tonga, in the wake of the recent ashfall and tsunami, the Tonga Water Board could be assisted with the review and updating of water safety plans, expanding the reticulated water supply in villages, improving asset management, and upgrading water treatment facilities. Critical water safety planning and training in operations and maintenance are needed for village water committees to address water quality issues in community systems and to build resilience in their systems.

WASH remains a priority across the Pacific, and ADB continues to work in partnership with its Pacific DMCs to identify opportunities to build a resilient, inclusive, and equitable WASH sector to protect and improve community health in the Pacific

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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