Protecting Tonga’s water supply

Ensuring a regular supply of safe water is particularly complicated for the small Pacific island states. Because of a reduced number of possible fresh water sources, over extraction of groundwater and changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, these countries face the potential of salt water intrusion into their fresh water resource. The Kingdom of Tonga, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is taking proactive steps to preserve their precious resource.

Meeting this community need is of paramount importance to every country and community. In fact one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is to increase access to safe drinking water for all people. It is a first-line intervention to protect public health as contaminated water supplies are a potent means of spreading disease.

How communities protect their water supplies

To enable communities to take control of their water supply, the Tongan government is implementing Water Safety Plan (WSP) for the water supply of villages. A WSP is a risk assessment and risk management plan for water supplies that, when implemented, reduces or eliminates the chance of the water becoming contaminated by pathogens, chemicals or through physical means. It does this through proactive control of the hazards and hazardous events that could cause that contamination.

Further, it identifies and prioritizes improvements to the water supply infrastructure, operations and management that may be needed to ensure it continues to supply safe clean potable water in the future. Communities are encouraged to participate in developing WSPs as they often understand their water supply better than anyone else, and by helping to develop the plan a community is more likely to take ownership of it and its implementation. The plan allows each community to monitor its water supply, requesting repairs as they are identified, and both responding to, and resolving local complaints, through regular community-led meetings.

Scaling up water supply protection

Initially 10 village WSPs were developed in 2009 in Tonga, and now the MOH and WHO have extended the development and implementation of the WSP to 18 villages (8 new villages, 10 previous villages). WHO are also funding the training of government officials in WSPs so they in turn can train and assist villages in WSP development and implementation.

Other stakeholders have also conducted some activities, e.g., Tonga Water Board has worked on the water safety in urban areas, SOPAC/SPC have a project involving household level sanitation and water safety promotion in Vavau, etc.

“Workshop on Water Safety Planning in Tonga” was held in Nuku’alofa from 27-29 August 2013: The first half-day was a high-level multi-sectoral meeting, attended by 12 ministries, institutions and embassies; seven ministers, ambassadors and CEOs attended. “Health in All Policies” is the leading principle of modern health governance around the world. Water safety planning is one of the priorities of the Government and of WHO and is a prime example of how the principle of “Health in All Policies” has been applied in Tonga. The second two-and-a-half days were an intensive training, of which the target audience was the representatives of WSP committee in 18 villages and the health inspectors of the MOH. The workshop provided the participants with concrete guidance and tools to develop, update and implement the water safety plans in the 18 villages.

Global standards

Tonga is using WHO guidance, recommending WSPs as the most effective means of consistently ensuring the safety of a drinking-water supply. WSPs require a water supplier to carry out a risk assessment of all the components of their water supply from the catchment and source to the consumer. This is followed by implementation and monitoring of risk management control measures.

Water supplies across the globe are being enhanced by the preventative approach promoted in WSPs. WSPs have been implemented in over 40 countries throughout the world. In addition another 20 countries are undertaking pilot programmes and another 25 are receiving introductory workshops.

Related Links

  • Water Safety Portal
    The Pacific Water Safety Plans (WSP) programme is a joint initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC).
  • Water Safety Plans (WSPs)
    The WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality recommend WSPs as the most effective means of consistently ensuring the safety of a drinking-water supply.