Empowering rights-based organisations to increase community resilience to the threats of climate change on water resources 

In rural Papua New Guinea (PNG), water security is often a significant challenge. The Government’s WASH Policy 2015 – 2030 indicates that 89 per cent of people in urban areas and 33 percent in rural areas have access to safe water while 57 percent of urban dwellers and only 13 percent of the rural population have access to basic sanitation. Rural communities are highly reliant on rainwater harvesting and traditional water sources such as shallow unprotected dug wells. While rainwater harvesting provides a safe source of drinking water close to the household, it often fails to provide sufficient water to meet community needs during the dry season.  

Papua New Guinean women and girls are disproportionally impacted by PNG’s low access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services and the threats of climate change on water security. Culturally, Papua New Guinean women undertake a large burden of water collection duties, caring for children, the elderly and people living with disability. In addition to this, women and girls require safe, reliable and private WASH services to manage menstruation. With a changing climate, poor water security, and resilience have significant impacts on women and people living with disability. Local rights organisations in PNG are at the forefront of the climate emergency especially at community level where most impacts are experienced, yet often have limited opportunity to contribute meaningfully to national, regional, and global policy dialogue.

The increasing impacts of climate change on WASH services coupled with the threat of drought looming means that locally based approaches to community-based water resource management are critical to resilience and sustainability of WASH services. Through support from the Australian Water Partnership, WaterAid in Papua New Guinea is implementing a program to empower women in Wewak District, East Sepik Province to build effective and scalable approaches to inclusive WASH service delivery, community-based water resource management, water security and climate resilience. WaterAid developed a new district community engagement manual which includes activities such as community water point mapping, women’s and men’s group transect walks, water quality testing, water point hazard identification, water resource estimations using storytelling and simple volumetric calculations, and climate change impact mapping. These approaches have been integrated with locally used approaches to sanitation and hygiene promotion, namely the Healthy Islands Approach and Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). The manual also integrates gender equality, disability and social inclusion activities and messages, including community sessions about the gendered division of WASH labour, equitable community water allocation, analysis of barriers to equal access and participation, and sessions about gender-based violence and referral pathways. WaterAid has contextualised and packaged the approaches into one tool with several modules that can be implemented at community level. 

Ms Winnie Sagiu, Senior Environmental Health Officer from East Sepik Provincial Health Authority facilitating a Water Quality Test using the Aquagenx test kit for microbiological contamination as part of the training at the East Sepik Centre of Hope.

In August 2023, WaterAid supported the East Sepik Provincial Health Authority (ESPHA) to facilitate a Training of Trainers with local rights group East Sepik Provincial Council of Women (ESCOW) and East Sepik Disable Person’s Agency (ESDPA). The training focused on building capacity and the confidence of ESCoW women leaders to effectively facilitate water resource management (WRM) and sanitation and hygiene promotion at the community level using the new manual. A total of 15 ESCoW and ESDPA women were trained to facilitate the Community Engagement Manual for improved climate resilient WaSH and WRM in the communities.  The women leaders will now be piloting the approaches in the rural communities in which they reside, aiming to improve water security through effective and sustainable management of the resource while also improving sanitation and hygiene behaviours within the community. 

Senior Environmental Health Officer within the East Sepik Provincial Health Authority Ms Winnie Sagiu said, “Community-based water resource management is important to women and people with disability because they are the most vulnerable group of people in a community. They are affected most during unusual events like extreme weather conditions and are also vulnerable to water and foodborne infections and diseases. Women and people with disability must be empowered and resilient to impacts of climate change. Water must be accessible, clean, safe and equitable. ” 

The approach to increasing capacity of the rural communities to respond to climate induced disaster to WASH services in rural communities will provide valuable learning and contribute to national level discussions among WASH and climate actors within the national technical working group for WASH, water resources and climate integration. The valuable insights will help bring a community grassroots, gender and disability perspective and inform government policy and planning.

Featured image: Freddy Narowen, Program Coordinator with WaterAid PNG, facilitating the CLTS Triggering with the ESCow and ESDPA training participants during the training at East Sepik Centre of Hope.
(Credit for all images: Joyce Maragas, WaterAid PNG)
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