Towards a resilient water future for Solomon Islanders through climate change adaptation
The impacts of Climate Change are often felt first through water. By 2050, globally, it is projected that at least one in four people will be affected by recurring water shortages (United Nations). For the Solomon Islands, this is already a reality for much of the population.
Although by no means water scarce or even water stressed as a country, Solomon Islands has a very difficult time when it comes to its citizens having year-round access to sufficient safe water resources, with water shortages common under normal climate variability and set to increase with through the impacts of Climate Change. Population at national level accessing a basic water service regressed between 2000 and 2015 and alarmingly, Solomon Islands had the largest regression globally for that period, averaging more than a 1% decline per year (JMP, 2017). In 2015, only 35% of the population were using an improved water supply which was “available when needed”, a decrease from 44% in 2000 (JMP 2017). When considering rural populations, the decline has been worse, declining 19% from 68% to 49%. These statistics also highlight that there has been a shifting over-reliance on rainwater and that the rainwater resource is more frequently unavailable when needed, which has clear linkages to the impacts of Climate Change.
Figure 1. Sea Level Rise (SLR) projections under substantially reduced emissions (RCP2.6) and high emissions (RCP8.5)
Water shortages are a particular challenge in some coastal communities on main islands and surrounding low-lying islets and atolls. Often in these places there is a heavy over-reliance on rainwater as the sole source of drinking water as there are few/no surface or spring water sources. Shallow freshwater lenses are often brackish and variable in volume and salinity due to rainfall and tidal fluctuations respectively. These conditions make the people highly vulnerable to any changes to seasonal climatic variations and medium/longer term Climate Changes. This vulnerability is compounded by the challenge presented with providing cost-effective support systems to townships and communities that are very remote.
Climate Change projections for Solomon Islands are uncertain, however based on the “Current and future climate of Solomon Islands” report (PACCSAP, 2011) there are a few projections that have been made with “high” or “very high” confidence, namely:
- an increase in days with extremely high temperatures (very high confidence)
- an increase in extreme rainfall events that may cause flooding (high confidence)
- Sea Level Rise (Fig 1.) will occur in the range of 45cm to 75cm by the year 2100 (very high confidence).
These projections are bad news for vulnerable coastal regions, low-lying islets and atolls over reliant on rainwater, as it is likely there will be longer and more frequent gaps between rainfall events. Freshwater lens will be further affected by lower recharge due to increased evapotranspiration/extreme heat, and saline intrusion.
There is a very real risk that if the Solomon Islands does not urgently find ways to adapt to Climate Change and its impacts on water resources, that the people living in low lying coastal areas and atolls may become Climate Change Internally Displaced People (Climate Change IDPs) due to dwindling freshwater. The likely resulting relocation of these people will put an increased strain on water resources and land, which at worst could encourage conflict between different groups of people.
Freshwater, Solomon Islands’ Development Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals
Figure 2. SDG 6 target themes (adapted from UNICEF’s Global WASH Strategy 2016-2030)
Solomon Islands National Development Strategy (NDS) 2016-2035 states that “during the provincial consultation process, access to water supply and improved sanitation was highlighted as the highest priority need, particularly in rural areas.” Water features prominently as contributing to economic growth (NDS Obj. 1) and poverty alleviation (NDS Obj. 2) through expansion and upgrading weather resilient infrastructure (Medium Term Strategy (MTS) 3) and through basic service provision (MTS 5). The importance to “promote resilient and environmentally sustainable development by ensuring effective climate, disaster and environmental disaster risk management is central to all development decision making” is acknowledged explicitly.
Globally, Agenda 2030 is a transformative agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out an ambitious goal for clean water. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs have recognized the fundamental requirement of “Clean Water and Sanitation” for sustainable development by assigning a dedicated Goal, Goal 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Crucially, Goal 6 captures the themes of the global freshwater challenge in a holistic “water-cycle” approach (Figure 2).
Without taking this holistic water-cycle approach to SDG 6, it will not be possible in the future to have continuous access to clean and sufficient water resources, and in turn, a continuous water service. Climate Change impacts on the entire water-cycle and therefore it is important to first safeguard and ensure the water resource, the “supply”, under different climatic scenarios, to meet the “demand”, the water service. The two are interdependent, so to ensure the “supply” we must also carefully manage the “demand” side so that we do not compromise the “supply”. This resource/service, supply/demand management process is best managed through an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) framework or approach.
In order to sustainably manage water resources, it is critical to first characterize and understand the resource so that the risks and opportunities posed by Climate Change can be articulated. In catering for the uncertainty of climate change impacts, a key underpinning principle of a IWRM approach should be to have a people centered approach, building adaptive capacity of the public at local level, as the people and enabling environment, including institutions, may have to adapt in ways unable to be predicted presently.
Successful Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) in the context of increasing water resource resilience is very much grounded in successful behavioural measures as much as it is in technological measures. The following principles of water CCA should be applied to help identify appropriate adaptation measures to sustainably manage the water resource whilst meeting people’s needs:
- Expand: increase water storage in natural (groundwater) or physical assets (rainwater harvesting tanks)
- Diversify: diversifying water use behavior and water supplies to reduce over-reliance and resource pressure
- Protect: safeguarding value of water resources by protection of recharge zones/appropriate sanitation
- Conserve: sustainable abstraction regimes / minimizing wastage
- Develop: develop new climate resilient and sustainable water resources/supply options e.g. desalination
Without first considering sustainable management of water resources and adaptation to changes in availability of water resources caused by Climate Change, it will be impossible to achieve the SDGs, and SDG 6, with the likelihood in vulnerable SIDS, including Solomon Islands, of further regressing in terms of people’s ability to access a basic water service let alone a sufficient and safe water service that is “available when needed”.
Solomon Islands Water Sector Adaptation Project
Solomon Islands Water Sector Adaptation Project (SIWSAP) is implemented by the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification – Water Resources Division, with support from Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, and other Ministries including Health and Medical Services and Development Planning and Aid Coordination. The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility through the UNDP Solomon Islands. The project was conceived in the context of the 2008 National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which recognized water as the second highest priority, and predominantly informed SIWSAP’s overall project objective: “to improve the resilience of water resources to the impacts of climate change in order to improve health, sanitation and quality of life, and sustain livelihoods in targeted vulnerable areas of the Solomon Islands”.
SIWSAP is recognized in the MTDP 2016-20 as contributing to NDS Objectives 1 & 2 and MTS 3 & 5 and makes direct contributions to a number of SDGs, primarily SDG 6 and 13. SIWSAP is highly relevant nationally and regionally and contributes directly to UNDAF 2018-22 Outcome 1: “By 2022, people and ecosystems in the Pacific are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, climate variability and disasters; and environmental protection is strengthened”.
SIWSAP takes an equity focused approach by targeting the townships and communities in six provinces which are vulnerable to climate change water related impacts. SIWSAP considers water resources primarily through a human lens, how people interact with water resources in their daily lives, and focusses on ensuring that there are always sufficient and clean water resources available for consumptive uses, during times of climate variability and when experiencing the impacts of Climate Change. This objective is achieved by i) understanding the water resources available and the climate risks/impacts/opportunities, and then applying the principles mentioned above of ii) expanding, diversifying, protecting, conserving and developing to identify and implement appropriate short and longer term no/low regret adaptation measures. Traditionally, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects often do not explicitly integrate CCA or resilience (Fig 3. & 4.), although it may be considered out of necessity to some extent. Often there is a pre-occupation with providing access to services, without due consideration for ensuring access when experiencing seasonal climate variations, let alone longer-term Climate Change projections.
Figure 4. Traditional WASH projects/programmes typically take actions in two or three priority themes
for SDG 6
Figure 3. SIWSAP takes actions in all six priority themes for SDG 6, employing a climate lens (SDG 13)
Water resource “SUPPLY” and water/sanitation service “DEMAND”
Water/sanitation service “DEMAND” only
SIWSAP is ahead of the curve, as globally other projects and programmes try now to retrofit or apply a broader approach demanded by SDG 6 into existing or new projects/programmes.
Climate Change Adaptation actions taken by SIWSAP in each priority area of SDG 6:
- Drinking Water – consider 60-day drought scenarios when planning interventions
- Sanitation and Hygiene – promotion of appropriate sanitation solutions for vulnerable coastal communities
- Water Quality – testing wells and rivers to verify ambient water quality of vulnerable water resources
- Water Use Efficiency and Scarcity – Hydrogeological surveys and groundwater monitoring boreholes
- Integrated Water Resources Management - Water Management Guidelines developed including approaches for sustainable management of both water resources and water supply
- Water related ecosystems – protection of aquifer recharge zones
SIWSAP is particularly conscious of balancing hardware and software interventions so that building adaptive capacity of people to manage their own drinking water security, and the requisite enabling environment to support that, remains central to the project given uncertainty of projected Climate Change impacts for the Solomon Islands.
SIWSAP has a key role to play in demonstrating as a country that it is possible to continue to inhabit and thrive in these highly vulnerable coastal environments in the face of climate change, through adaptation.
At present a full Cost Benefit Analysis has not yet been conducted, so the economic benefit of climate change adaptation has not yet been quantified. It is assumed that the alternative to not adapting, or delayed adaptation, would be very costly, as it would likely involve a combination of relocating people through government land acquisition schemes to areas where they can access sufficient and safe water resources and/or increasingly protracted periods of reliance on externally funded/subsidized drinking water delivery to vulnerable and often very remote communities. There are also potential significant costs associated with conflict arising from relocation and disputes over land and water resources.
Some adaptation benefits realized through SIWSAP implementation, so far:
- Implementing CCVA and WSCCARP in six sites has increased adaptive capacity at township/community level and regional level for assessing risks, opportunities and potential appropriate responses for current climate variability and future/projected climate change impacts on water resources.
- Quick fix infrastructure implemented in response to the 2015-16 El Nino event across six sites have built short term resilience to current climate variability and climate change impacts through expansion and diversification. Expansion and diversification of water resources and water supplies has led to a workforce productivity increase as less time spent searching for water on mainland (Taro)
- Water Management Guidelines have built adaptive capacity to respond to climate change through tank gauges and careful management regimes (six sites)
- Four locations are now benefitting from a diversified water supply through desalination adaptation technology
The Solomon Islands Water Sector Adaptation Project (SIWSAP) is a four year climate change adaptation project funded by the GEF Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF LDCF) and implemented by the Solomon Islands Government and UNDP Solomon Islands. On the ground in six provinces, SIWSAP’s key objective is to improve the resilience of water resources to the impacts of climate change and improve health, sanitation and quality of life, so that livelihoods can be enhanced and sustained in the targeted vulnerable areas.