“Wai Tamata” (Water for Peace): World Water Day in Vanuatu

On Friday, 22nd March, Dr Mark Love (International WaterCentre) and Heather Molitambe (The University of the South Pacific – Vanuatu), were privileged to attend the “Commemoration of World Water Day” in Saratamata, Ambae Island, Penama Province, Vanuatu.

Mark and Heather are working on “PacWaM+ 2: Supporting decentralised rural water supply in Pacific Islands”, a research project being undertaken in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji, supported by the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Water for Women Fund.  Mark and Heather were in Ambae and Pentecost wrapping -up formative research on the status of rural water service delivery decentralisation in Vanuatu, and interviewing members of a remarkable water committee in Latano, central-north Pentecost, for a video for the Department of Water Resources on strong water committees.

World Water Day – a United Nations observance day since 1993 – seeks to focus attention on the global water crisis. This year’s theme was “Water for Peace” and draws attention to the fact that water can create both peace and conflict – when water is scarce or polluted, or when people have limited, no, and/or unequal access to water, tensions can rise.  As climate change impacts increase, and populations grow, there is an urgent need to unite around protecting and conserving our most precious resource – water.

The Water Day celebrations were led by the Department of Water and Resources (DoWR), in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and Vanuatu Department of Meteorology and Geo-Hazards (World Meteorological Organisation Day is 23 of March).  Numerous dignitaries from the Provincial and national government attended for the day, specifically Hon. MP Rick Techamako Mahe (Minister of Internal Affairs), Johnstil Tari Qwuetu (Minister of Health), (acting) Director General (DG) Lands, Erickson Sammy (former Director of DoWR) and (acting) Director DoWR, Brooks Rakau.

In continuity with this year’s World Water Day, the message was translated as Wai tamata (wai = water, tamata = peace/unity, in many of the 130+ vernacular languages spoken in Vanuatu).  Following numerous speeches – including a fascinating talk by Chief Elison Reveala on the source and spiritual significance of water on nearby Maewo island (renowned for having the highest rainfall in the country and literally hundreds of spectacular waterfalls) – there was a ground-breaking ceremony for the new DoWR office building as well as the rehabilitation and upgrade of the Saratamat Water Supply system.   The new, extended water supply system will bring piped, safe groundwater to over 1000 people currently without access to safe and reliable.

The DoWR, who were also running their annual retreat in Saratamat in week leading up to World Water Day – facilitated negotiations and eventual agreement between over ten customary land groups, some of which have contested claims over the ground where the pipes will be located.  Land disputes are one of the most substantive and intractable issues impinging rural development in many parts of the country (from water and energy projects to airports and provincial government buildings).  In the spirit of Wai Tamata, key members of the DoWR successfully negotiated with the leaders of the customary land holding groups, and on Wai Tamata Day publicly singed an Access Agreement alongside Hon. Minister Rick Tchamakao Mahe, DG Erickson and all the key customary landowners, who reported that they “were happy for the project extension and the benefits it will bring our people”.


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Pacific Community Water Management Plus (PaCWaM+)