World Toilet Day 2015: new World Bank report finds severe lack of access to water & sanitation for thousands of families across the Pacific

As more and more families migrate from rural areas to Pacific capital cities, water, sanitation and health challenges in rapidly growing informal settlements in key Pacific capital cities are in urgent need of response, according to a new World Bank report.

Released to coincide with World Toilet Day 2015, Unsettled: water and sanitation in urban settlement communities of the Pacific, highlights the reasons why thousands of families in Melanesia – Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) – are unable to access basic water and sewage services. The report makes a number of recommendations on how governments, utility providers, charities and donors can work together to improve access and affordability.

“The findings of this report are, as the name suggests, unsettling – revealing the extent to which families living in informal settlements in Pacific capitals are going without safe drinking water and clean, effective toilets and other sanitation services,” said Franz Drees-Gross, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Pacific Islands. “We hope this report starts a conversation that needs to happen in the Pacific, as informal settlements now form a significant part of cities such as Port Moresby, Honiara, Suva and Port Vila. It is crucial that decision-makers across the region work together to overcome the numerous barriers to ensuring all Pacific Islanders have access to these most basic of services.”

In the Melanesian capital cities of Honiara, Port Moresby, Port Vila and Suva, up to 45% of the population live in informal settlements – areas of poorly-constructed housing on land without formal legal titles, often on flood-prone, steep or cramped plots of land. As more people relocate to the capital, and housing and infrastructure planning remains inadequate, this could grow to 65% of the capital city residents by 2023.

The rapid growth of settlements is compounding health and social problems associated with poor provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene services-including the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhoea, increased vulnerability of women and children, and an erosion of privacy and dignity.

“Without proper access to toilets people are forced to use inadequate facilities which are often exposed, flooded or inaccessible for children and the elderly,” said Isabel Blackett, Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist for the World Bank. “The absence of water taps in or near homes requires women and children to transport heavy containers of water with serious health implications.”

The report suggests that the lack of water and sanitation services is partly the result of the absence of clear responsibilities and mandates of government and water utility providers, further complicated by land tenure and difficulties in adapting existing technologies to suit settlement areas. Billing processes are also a challenge, and some governments are reluctant to provide services in fear of encouraging settlement growth.

“Attitudes towards water and sanitation services in the settlements must change, otherwise the daily risks taken by women and children and the likelihood of outbreaks of water-borne diseases – which could be catastrophic to Pacific countries – will continue to rise,” said Ms Blackett. “We’ve seen great examples of action in some parts of Honiara and Suva, which show that it is possible to implement arrangements which are beneficial not just to residents, but to governments and service providers as well.”

Unsettled: water and sanitation in urban settlement communities of the Pacific was written with the cooperation and support of United Nations Habitat, UNICEF and the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility.

Source: World Bank