27 January 2019
Solomon Islands: Meeting WASH challenges faced with growing climate change
I have often written about the health services in the Solomon Islands in the context of highlighting shortcomings in the delivery of health care services in the country’s rural areas due to the run down state of many of the health centres and clinics and problems at the National Referral Hospital due to the strain being put on the NRH having to deal with increasing numbers of patients suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and critical shortages of diagnostic equipment and medical supplies.
In my most recent letters I have raised the question of funding for the MHMS being made available to ensure beneficial changes occur in providing essential health care support for a growing population now believed to have exceeded 615,000.
What I have not previously mentioned when raising funding concerns for the MHMS is the fact that the MHMS is the national government department responsible for water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes.
While fully acknowledging the Solomon Islands Government since October 2011 has recognized WASH as central to the overall development (and good health of the country) and seen the introduction of a National Development Strategy (2016 – 2035) which strongly emphasizes the need to focus on improved water and sanitation and hygiene practices in rural areas, it is claimed that the national WASH sector remains institutionally weak to implement national policies.
To understand the problem said to be the weakness in implementing national WASH policies, I turned to a report released by UNICEF last year and read (quote)
“National ownership and strong coordination on WASH policy implementation are recognized as critical requirements to shift from policy to strategy and create an enabling environment for accelerated implementation.”
“The technical, management and coordination capacity of the WASH sector (both rural and urban) remains a major bottleneck for translating policy recommendations into concrete actions. It is therefore necessary to examine the capability of the Government and its partners to undertake WASH service delivery interventions in the country.”
A detailed capacity assessment of the National WASH Sector was proposed to map the existing capacity and identify gaps focusing on individual, organizational and system-level WASH functions.
It is my understanding that UNICEF appointed a consultant to carry out a review from September 2018 to March 2019 – a 60 day assignment.
The consultant was given the following terms of reference (quote).
“Assess the capacity of the Solomon Islands WASH sector (actors, systems and functions) in relation to the governments water, sanitation and hygiene policies and strategies in rural and urban areas; - identify capacity gaps with WASH sector stakeholders; and - recommend a capacity development plan to address critical gaps. Scope of Work/ Work Assignments: a. Identify and analyze key documents, including existing capacity development policies and programs for the WASH sector, previous capacity assessments, including the sector analysis by WaterAid in 2016/17.”
“ Engage with national and provincial authorities, learning institutions, NGOs, church agencies, development partners and other relevant stakeholders to identify the capacity needs, gaps and challenges for the WASH sector at all levels.”
“Develop a methodology for the assessment including the use of appropriate tools and analytical instruments to facilitate data collection, interface with policy makers and other actors involved in management or delivery of basic WASH services.”
“Review the institutional structure for rural and urban WASH service delivery including coordination, budgeting, planning and monitoring processes.”
“Prepare a comprehensive assessment report of the capacity needs of the WASH sector in consultation with key stakeholders at the national and provincial level.”
The consultant’s report is expected to be released in March 2019 and intended to provide to RWASH to strengthen its capacity to implement the rural WASH policy and improve the overall capacity of the WASH sector through a WASH Sector Capacity Assessment as building block for the WASH enabling environment and in line with bilateral and multilateral support provided to SIG for improved rural and urban WASH services.
It is known the European Union (EU), is one of the major donors for WASH in the Solomon Islands and continues to provide the Solomon Islands Government budget support to strengthen rural WASH projects.
I feel sure the UNICEF consultants reported will be eagerly awaited by the incoming SIG in March 2019, following the general election, because there is growing pressure to make confident predictions about WASH needs due to the ever growing impact of climate change and increasingly in the water sector, fed by reports that water supplies could fail in some areas of the country.
It is to be hoped that when we read the UNICEF consultants report we will learn of the climate resilience of different WASH technologies that could be implemented locally and funded to aid the Solomon Islands ensure water security.