On Monday, Mr Marc Overmars, Ms Brooke Yamakoshi, and Ms Jean Choi of UNICEF joined Suva East to talk about UNICEF’s work in the WASH sector (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) and to present an update on the status of Pacific Countries.
Many folks may be familiar with UNICEF’s grassroots fundraising efforts, but the organization which was first established in 1946 as the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund does much more than just street appeals. Now the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF works in many areas that affect children, including advocacy, education, health, and water and sanitation.
Originally from Holland, Mr Overmars is based in Fiji and has been working on Pacific regional water and sanitation for the last 13 years. He shared a number of surprising statistics with the club and had everyone begging for a copy of his slides. Did you know…
- Only 30% of the Pacific has access to improved sanitation (1/2 the world average)
- Only 53% of the Pacific have access to improved water
These numbers are heavily skewed by the least developed nations in the Pacific: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Vanuatu. Fiji has really improved over the last 50 years and as a result, UNICEF does not do much work locally in Fiji these days. For example:
- 87% of Fijians have access to improved sanitation (up from 60% 15 years ago)
- 96% of Fijians have access to improved water (up from 69% 15 years ago)
- 75% of schools have improved water and sanitation
However, the issue in Fiji, says Overmars, is more a question of quality. Although the basics of access are there, we all know that there’s a lot of work to be done in ensuring the safety and continued maintenance of rural community and school water systems. Some issues Overmars raised:
- Urban/Rural disparity in access to water/sanitation
- Handwashing/ basic hygiene is often not practiced, making communities vulnerable to typhoid
- High mortality in places like PNG and Kiribati, often due to diarrhea/ water-borne disease
- Urban sanitation- the need for more investment in wastewater processing and sewage systems. even in Suva, most people have septic systems which just leach out into Laucala Bay and Suva Harbour
All in all, the session was educational and thought-provoking; it also served to reinforce the importance of what organizations like our very own Rotary Pacific Water are doing in communities across Fiji.