Assessing the Climate Change Readiness of Pacific Island Water and Sanitation Utilities

Pacific Island countries have significant gaps in access to water and sanitation. Data collected by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program in 2017 shows that access to safely managed or basic water supply is only 55 percent, and access to basic sanitation is 30 percent on average, across the Pacific.

Climate change continues to be an ongoing threat to Pacific Island countries and exacerbates existing environmental and affordability challenges experienced by utilities in the region. As climate events continue to become more frequent – including a stronger season rainfall cycle and increasing frequency of extreme events – they will continue to have adverse impact upon utilities who will continue to face operational challenges around water availability.

Resilient and reliable utilities can play a central role in decreasing the coverage gap and ensuring sustainable water and sanitation services in the face of climate change threats.

Some utilities are enhancing their climate change readiness through implementation of technological solutions such as desalination. However, climate change considerations also need to be addressed through policy, strategy, and long-term planning.

The Pacific Water and Wastewater Association (PWWA) has been a key partner of the Australian Water Partnership for many years. Current engagement in partnership with Hunter H2O and the World Bank includes identifying gaps in the climate-readiness of Pacific Island Water Supply and Sanitation utilities. This is being done through an assessment of their development and application of policies, strategies, plans and operations that incorporate climate risk, climate trends, and climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

Key to the project outcomes is the development of a standardised diagnostic tool and assessment process of the maturity of the individual utility in terms of their climate-readiness. The results of the assessment will be used to inform recommendations for the utility to support ongoing climate change readiness. If successful, this process can then be rolled out throughout the PWWA network across 21 Pacific Island countries to better prepare utilities against the impacts of climate change.

The first step has been a literature review to identify key threats and vulnerabilities for Pacific Islands Water Supply and Sanitation utilities, as well as success factors and different approaches to assessing utility performance in responding to climate change.

All of these elements have been considered in the development of a standardised Assessment Matrix, which has since been developed into a user-friendly tool that incorporates relevant elements that have been adjusted to suit the Pacific context.

The current focus is on testing the Assessment Matrix and will evaluate utility maturity to:

  • incorporate climate change vulnerability and risk, climate trends, climate change adaptation and mitigation measures in utility policies, strategic planning, infrastructure planning and operations; and
  • apply climate-informed policies, strategies, plans and operations, including monitoring and responding to climate shocks at an operational level.

The penultimate phase of the activity will focus on data collected being reviewed and processed to assess utility maturity. This will be followed by an analysis of gaps in the utility’s climate change readiness and then development of recommendations to address these gaps. Gap analysis will consider the utility vulnerabilities to climate change compared to the current and aspirational level of maturity.

This project is a prime example of partnership between regional, international, and private sector stakeholders working together to address the key challenge of climate change readiness within the Pacific. If successful, this activity has the potential to ensure the members of the PWWA network are climate change ready for the immediate and long-term future.

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