Social networks key to water care, sanitation in the Pacific, study finds
A study has found that traditional and digital social networks are key to improving community water management and sanitation in the Pacific. The United Nations warned in March that a quarter of the worlds population lacked safe drinking water. The first of its kind Water Policy study investigated how social networks were being used to support improved rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) outcomes in rural areas of the Pacific region. With very high mobile connectivity, internet access and social media use in the Pacific, social media has become an important post-disaster buffer, lead author Dr Mark Love said. READ MORE: * Making a career out of sustainable and innovative solutions for water * Crisis still unfolding one month on from back-to-back cyclones in Vanuatu * A quarter of world population lacks safe drinking water: UN * Covid-19: Fijians harness the fundraising power of social media as their government struggles with the pandemic crisis In New Zealand, the Government is expected to review and possibly downgrade its policy about the state of the nations water infrastructure. Almost all stakeholders, especially water industry representatives, have agreed that the system in Aotearoa requires significant investment to avoid another 2016 Havelock North water contamination disaster . This includes future-proofing New Zealands changing population, climate and consumer expectations, while ensuring water is affordable. The Water Policy study, published on Wednesday, also found that strong socio-cultural norms of reciprocity, self-help and obligations in the Pacific had allowed support around water and sanitation to flow from urban to rural areas. Love, a research fellow at Griffith Universitys International WaterCentre in Brisbane, Australia, said when urban and rural residents in the Pacific communicate and organise well, it could provide capacity to respond to emergency rural water and sanitation needs in the region. Co-author Dr Regina Souter from the Australian Rivers Institute said Pacific island countries had the lowest access to improved drinking water sources and sanitation services in the world. Due to geography, climate, high frequency and severity of disasters, transportation difficulties and resource constraints, government and private sector support for rural populations in the Pacific is often limited, Souter said. She said the ability of governments to offer water services to rural populations was limited, with it ultimately falling on non-state institutions such as church, and chiefs, village organisations and committees to provide these services. The study revealed that more than 70% of Fijis population was on Facebook but also TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Viber and Messenger apps. Love said social networks , built on kinship and place, and supported by norms of obligation and reciprocity, constituted a central part of the WaSH-enabling environment in Fiji. When people and culture, rather than a government or its agents, agree to ensure equitable access to safe, reliable and adequate water, they must be appreciated as a critical component of the local WaSH environment, Love said. The study demonstrates that family-related urban-rural linkages , customs, relations and practices, and common interest associations like village development committees are an innovative response to social, economic and environmental change, and can be critical for enabling water, sanitation and hygiene, he said. Migration due to education, work and climate change had resulted in hybrid village development committees being made up of both rural residents and town-based urban emigrants, Love said. This provides important opportunities to engage with leaders in urban centres when dealing with rural development issues, he said. Engaging solely with rural people in the village is no longer acceptable as it no longer represents an engagement with the whole community In Fiji, social media has been critical for improving water and sanitation services and to support disaster preparedness and response. For example, Facebook 'live' information discussions have been proactively used as a community development and advocacy tool (known as talanoa) to counter false narratives about Covid-19. Love said the Pacific region could use existing social networks to strengthen rural water and sanitation outcomes as a fruitful community water management-plus strategy for both governments and non-government organisations. In Fiji, where rural WaSH considerations are on people's radar and a functional degree of trust and accountability permeates social relations and urban-rural linkages, acknowledging and engaging with social networks simply make sense. Love said the insights gained from the study could be applied to similar contexts around the world where communities were remotely located from centralised water, sanitation and hygiene services.