Until a year ago, people in the village of Ekipe on North Efate Island in Vanuatu did not have access to running water. Villagers such as Marie, a mother of five, were forced to dig holes in the sand and wait for them to fill with fresh water: a time-consuming task that rarely provided enough water for cooking, bathing and washing clothes.
“We go to the market in Port Vila 40 miles away to sell our goods and we come back late,” said Marie. “Gathering water was very hard because the water source was far from our homes.”
Many local communities in Vanuatu use fresh water as their water source, but rising sea levels had increased the salinity of fresh water in Ekipe, causing many health problems especially among women and children.
Today villagers in Ekipe can step out their doors to running water as a result of a project implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grant Programme (SGP) that installed water taps in 75 households connecting to a community water pipe.
With technical assistance from UNDP partner New Zealand International Aid and Development Agency (NZAID), Ekipe villagers have been trained in plumbing and how to build bathrooms and toilets for their homes. They’ve also learned how to manage project funds and to generate income through water fees that will help sustain their water.
Access to running water has also contributed to better preparation for the violent storms that frequently hit the island. Using bricks made from sand and water, villagers are able to construct stronger houses that are more capable of coping with future cyclones.
Although there has been progress in access to running water around the world, rural areas remain at a disadvantage, particularly in Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa, where rural coverage of piped water remains at 37 percent and 47 percent, respectively, as compared to 91 percent and 83 percent in urban areas.
Through initiatives, such as the water project in Ekipe, UNDP is working to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, one the targets of the seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
“Access to clean water is a human right,” said Ms. Leah Nimoho, National Coordinator SPG Vanuatu. “Now families in Ekipe have water right next to their kitchen and they have more time to study and do other work rather than going around looking for water.”