THE people of South West Tanna have had their quality of life improved dramatically with greatly improved water availability.
This area of Tanna was targeted as one of the areas with the highest needs in Vanuatu following an assessment by the Vanuatu Rural Water supply.
Speaking to the Independent Online, Suzy Sainovski, communications officer for World Vision, said while most of Vanuatu’s population lived along the coast and dug wells near the ocean, people in South West Tanna live on high and narrow ridges away from the sea.
“They had to walk down steep hills to fetch water from rivers some 100 to 300 metres below,” she said.
“Women would walk up to two hours each way to fetch water from the creeks.
“World Vision research found higher than anticipated rates of malnutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under five years in that region.
“During the initial assessment of the project, the Vanuatu Rural Water Supply Department pinpointed South West Tanna as one of the areas with the highest needs in Vanuatu.”
She said World Vision’s Tanna Integrated WASH project, supported by the New Zealand Aid Program, worked to construct and rehabilitate gravity-fed water systems, establish balanced WASH management committees, construct 250 toilets, provide primary health care education and the implementation of WASH and Health Actions Plans in each community.
“The project used the Participatory Hygiene And Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) which fosters sustainable behaviour change whilst also achieving significant improvements in gender equality,” she said.
A Karimasanga Women’s Focus (KWF) group in Tanna said before World Vision came, they were taking water from the sea and the creek which was a far distance and sometimes they had to sleep at the sea.
“We would also sometimes take water from the springs which at times did not run well,” they said.
“And that means we had to wait.”
Ms Sainovski said they are targeting 10 communities in South West Tanna serving approximately 5000 people in an ongoing program.
“Our aim is to reduce the severity of child malnutrition through increased access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and improved health, hygiene and sanitation behaviour in 780 households from 10 communities in South West Tanna,” she said.
A World Vision report said significant results show the Tanna Integrated WASH project has made children healthier.
“Stunting has been reduced by 16 per cent, an 8.8 per cent reduction in proportion of children who are underweight and three percent reduction in diarrhoea,” the report said.
“Although it’s difficult to accurately measure the reduction in diarrhoea prevalence among children under five years, the evaluation did find a reduction of three per cent.
“Cross tabulation analysis is the process of examining relationships within the data that aren’t immediately obvious and through that World Vision can see that there is evidence of good handwashing practice, improved pit toilet conditions and the ability to recall the knowledge on what causes diarrhoea and what constitutes good nutrition.’’
Ms Sainovski said this project demonstrated the importance of an integrated programing approach to deliver holistic and sustainable health outcomes for communities.
“Through a WASH project, the long term outcome of this project focussed very clearly on demonstrating change to health indicators (stunting, washing etc) and had a focus not just on improving hygiene and sanitation but also nutrition,” she said.
“In the first 18 months, the project linked with the existing World Vision Health project which promoted maternal newborn, child health and nutrition messages.
“This program overlap in some communities broadened the impact of both projects interventions.”
Ms Sainovski said the project began in 2013 and is still going.
“In March 2015, TC Pam destroyed practically all the Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) toilets that had been built through the project activities – more than 700 of them,” she said.
“Despite this, 95 per cent of households surveyed indicated that they had rebuilt or repaired their toilets by themselves during the recovery process.
“Forty-eight per cent of people rebuilt their toilets without any support using their acquired skills and knowledge and 47 per cent of people rebuilt their toilets with the support from their local water management committee.
“These results indicate a strong technical understanding among target communities on how to build VIP toilets but also demonstrating the importance now being placed by communities on access to sanitation facilities and functional Water Management Committees (WMC) to support planning and action.”
Ikakahak Womens Focus group in Tanna said at their village all the toilets had been blown down after the cyclone but now all of them have been rebuilt.
“If the pipes break, we will fundraise from each household because we see the importance of it and we have to maintain the system,” they said.
Another women’s group known as Enkunenepum Women’s Focus group said their committee encourages the community to eat healthy and to use clean toilets.
“And support World Vision in organising activities,” they said.
Ms Sainovski said women in the focus group discussions said the PHAST process provided a safe space to be able to talk about their particular challenges to others in the community, particularly issues with men.
Joseph Joel, Provincial Water Manager, said PHAST is effective in some areas.
“People have been living in a certain way for many years so it’s hard to change,” he said.
“But I think it’s the best model to use in Tanna, it’s practical – not classroom based – and gets the communities themselves to identify challenges.
“For women it allows them to voice their particular challenges and voice this to communities as well.”
A 13-year-old girl from Luwana in Tanna said she used to collect water every day.
“And before I didn’t have time to study but today things changed and thanks to the water systems,” she said.
Jimmy Daniel, Tanna Integrated WASH Project Manager, said the role of the Water Management committee (WMC) was to negotiate access, not World Vision.
“Resolving any land dispute was also the role of the WMC’s and this really worked well,” he said.
“There were issues, but this was handled by the communities with the support of World Vision.”