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Climate change, water supply and sanitation in the Pacific

PACCWASH, short for Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, is a 3-year project coordinated by the International WaterCentre (IWC) in collaboration with partners from Griffith University, Monash University, the University of Alabama and the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina.

“There is a big knowledge gap in how to incorporate climate change impacts into the planning and policy frameworks around water. This knowledge gap takes on particular emphasis for some of our closest neighbours in the South Pacific, due to their relationship and proximity to the ocean and the incomplete coverage of water, sanitation and hygiene in many communities which leads to significant human health problems”, said Dr Wade Hadwen, PACCWASH project leader from the Australian Rivers Institute.

The PACCWASH project therefore aims to:

  • determine the impacts of climate change on water and sanitation systems for communities in Pacific island atolls and flood prone catchments
  • inventory existing water and sanitation infrastructure, practices and adaptation options for high-risk communities in the Pacific
  • develop conceptual and quantitative (Bayesian) models using a high degree of stakeholder participation to assist in understanding climate change impacts and assessing management and adaptation options
  • empower local stakeholders with the ability to critically assess their own physical environment, vulnerabilities and adaptation options to increase their community’s resilience to climate change
  • influence policy and aid decision-makers in their consideration of adaptation options, with particular emphasis on considering flow-on effects of local adaptation actions and the risk of maladaptation on the water resource sector.      

PACCWASH - Water infrastructure in the Solomon Islands

“The range of questions we are trying to answer are very diverse; how do communities manage in times of flood and drought, can we develop risk maps of floods and sanitation infrastructure and how do all these factors work together? Armed with that information, the challenge for us is how can we make reasonable, robust policy to help protect the precious resource of water into a changing future?” said Dr Hadwen.

Field update

The second year of the PACCWASH project focused on forming relationships with    local stakeholder in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the project’s second case study country. Research tools, including a water and climate impacts survey, were finalised and data in both the flood prone Solomon Islands and the drought prone atolls of the Marshall Islands were collected.

This year, the final year of funding, also saw the completion of research methods, including the finalisation of a community discussion framework and a participatory modelling protocol. These methods combine participatory and quantitative modelling  techniques to identify climate change impacts associated with water supplies and sanitation, and to examine the adaptation options (in light of current management practices) for local communities. This approach utilises the broad skills of the multi-disciplinary project team, and, critically, it also enables the integration of environmental, social and economic interests into the decision-making process.

Good communication channels are key

On the Marshall Islands, the research team has met with multiple government ministries and NGOs active in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, establishing good channels of communication with government actors responsible for decision-making and policy development. The knowledge gained provided a good understanding of the current state of water supply, sanitation, and the impacts of climate change in the Marshall Islands.

“We have committed to share our findings and recommendations with various levels of governments with the aim of influencing new evidence-
based climate change policy.”
Dr Wade Hadwen

“We have also formed a strong collaborative relationship with Dr Irene Taafaki, Director of the University of the South Pacific on the Marshall Islands. Members of Dr Taafaki’s research staff have been working closely with our team to provide entry points into potential communities, moderating community discussions and administering household interviews. Our work together has established a foundation for joint publications, and potential future partnerships”, said Dr Hadwen.

You can support this research project through the Everyday Hero campaign.

More information


Photos are courtesy of Dr Morgan MacDonald, Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University.


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