Pipeline progress

Long-running partnerships and the technical support of The Pacific Community (SPC) are helping governments across the region to secure safe water for their people.
Three men digging a ditch..
In Kiribati, the government is building water facilities to protect against rainfall changes that come with climate change, such as the severe drought in 2022. Photo: SPC.

Running out of fresh water is a growing risk for many Pacific island nations, as climate change advances. The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report in 2022 found that freshwater systems in Pacific nations are among the most threatened on the planet.

Aotearoa New Zealand works alongside the regional scientific and technical teams in The Pacific Community (SPC) to support Pacific nations address the key issue of water security. 

A big and changing challenge

“The data collected by Pacific nations is striking. Recent data estimates approximately 45% of all Pacific Islanders continue to live without access to basic drinking water facilities, and some 70% live without access to basic sanitation – the highest of any region of the world.” – SPC director Stuart Minchin, March 2020.

Stuart says this applies particularly to people living in rural areas, in informal communities on the fringes of the region’s growing urban areas, and on small islands. 

The water sources themselves are threatened by increasing demand, high water take, coastal erosion, increased seawater infiltration and droughts, while water and wastewater infrastructure is at risk from increasing extreme weather events, sea level rise and flooding; almost 60 per cent of the Pacific region’s built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of the coast.

Delivering on our partners’ priorities

Men unloading pipes from a plane..
Public Utility Board workers, defence personnel and foreign affairs ministry staff from Australia and New Zealand, team up with airport staff at Tarawa to unload urgently needed materials for new water pipelines. Photo: Richard Cassidy.

The first part of the SPC water security work was focused on building island nations’ resources and skills to be able to anticipate, prepare for and respond to the impacts of drought. That brought together water agencies, disaster management and meteorological services.

In 2022, SPC confirmed agreements with five atoll nations to begin practical work on managing water scarcity, after a year of planning with the governments of the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu. This programme is supported by a $13 million investment over three years from Aotearoa New Zealand.

These agreements build on the achievements, learnings, and community of practice established through the Strengthening Water Security of Vulnerable Island States (SWSVIS) project, also funded by Aotearoa New Zealand and implemented by atoll countries and SPC from 2015 to 2019.

Each country is now in the implementation phase.  For example, in Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands, household and community rainwater tanks and infrastructure have been repaired, and new community and household rainwater storage installed.

Planning pays off in Kiribati

Men fixing a water pump..
Photo: SPC

In Kiribati, the long-running arrangements paid off sharply in the middle of 2022, when sustained drought prompted a water supply emergency. Aotearoa New Zealand was able to respond quickly to requests for assistance from the Government of Kiribati.

As well as providing emergency relief funding to buy and fly in a seawater reverse-osmosis desalination plant, we were able to support the fast-tracking of materials for a major project (with the help of the Australian Defence Force) – bringing in 1.9km of pipes to replace the existing leaky pipeline connection from the Betio desalination plant to the main water storage facility. This will help improve access to water for communities in South Tarawa.

Work meantime continues on the outer islands in the Kiribati group to set up enduring maintenance for solar-powered systems that draw from sustainable sources of groundwater, as well as for desalination units. The Government of Kiribati is also investigating options for reverse osmosis units, and establishing training for technicians and communities on small islands.

Building up regional cooperation

Aotearoa New Zealand’s climate finance also backs regional efforts through the Pacific Community (SPC) and others, to build regional action and cooperation on water security and improve integration of climate and weather data into country planning systems.


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