Safe drinking water for rural communities in Fiji

SUVA, 25 September 2016 – More than 220 000 people living in rural areas in Fiji rely on creeks and rivers to supply fresh water. Fiji’s Ministry of Health & Medical Services (MoHMS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are working together to improve capacities for water quality monitoring.

WHO and UNICEF have provided technical guidance on the development of Fiji's water quality surveillance system, including training environmental health officers of the MoHMS in testing water supplies to ensure they meet international microbiological and chemical standards of water safety and quality.

Staff of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, WHO and UNICEF with newly purchased Potalab and Potatest water testing kits in September 2016

In order to fully implement Fiji’s National Drinking Water Quality Standards, WHO and UNICEF have donated portable water testing laboratories (Potalab) and kits (Potatest) to assist the MoHMS’ Environmental Health Unit to monitor water quality in rural and urban areas.

During the handover of equipment, the Honourable Jone Usamate, the outgoing Minister of Health and Medical Services explained: "Rural water drinking quality is a major issue in this country. Water is a basic necessity for life and safe water makes sure that our people can live well, stay well and get well."

The new test kits will enable the improved sensitivity, accuracy and reliability of routine water quality surveillance as well as ensuring rapid testing of water supplies after disasters. Both the Potalab and the Potatest systems will be distributed to all Divisional Environmental Health Offices and selected sub-divisional offices.

The WHO Division of Pacific Technical Support Team Coordinator for Health Security, Communicable Diseases and Climate Change, Dr Angela Merianos, said: "Drinking water quality management has been a pillar of public health in Fiji for many years and continues to be the foundation of the prevention and control of waterborne and water-related diseases. However, diarrhoeal diseases remain a leading cause of child illness and mortality across the Pacific. The objective of the new test system is to systematically monitor the quality of drinking water throughout Fiji to ensure that Fijian people, especially those in rural areas where access to treated reticulated water is limited, are provided with safe drinking water.”

UNICEF Pacific Deputy Representative, Vathinee Jitjaturunt, stated, “Safe water is a precondition for health and development and a basic human right for all. Sadly, water quality is a growing concern across the Pacific region, including in Fiji. Safe drinking water sources are under increasing threat from contamination, posing potentially far-reaching consequences for the health of children and for the economic and social development of communities and nations. Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ is Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals and will require continued collective effort and commitment from communities, UN agencies, civil society and Governments alike to guarantee it is reached.”

With the development and implementation of the new water quality monitoring programme and Potalab and Potatest equipment used by well-trained environmental health officers, the Ministry will be able to fully implement the water quality standards in the coming months.

For more information contact:

Dr. Rokho Kim,
Environmental Health Specialist, Health and the Environment
Pacific Health Security, Communicable Diseases and Climate Change (PSC)
WHO Division of Pacific Technical Support
Ph: 3234 141 Mob: 7779 707

Mr. Marc Overmars
Chief of WASH Section
UNICEF Pacific