Delivering clean water in the flood-affected Solomon Islands

At the beginning of April, the Solomon Islands were hit by the worst floods in decades. Some 1,500 people are still living in evacuation centres in Honiara. UNICEF and partners have been supporting the relief efforts. Here’s a field diary by Guy Mbayo Kakumbi who helped restore basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

I have returned from the Solomon Islands where, as UNICEF specialist on water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies, I supported the relief efforts after the floods caused by a tropical cyclone that hit at the beginning of April. The cyclone destroyed the livelihoods of at least 52,000 people in the city of Honiara and in the rest of the Guadalcanal Island. Torrents of water had flooded vast areas of land, washing away houses of some 2,000 people, and filling wells and toilets with debris. A month after the flood, the mud has not yet dried.

In the midst of all this, I saw a group of girls and boys playing with a hand-made ball in the middle of a temporary camp. They were laughing and running in all directions, as if nothing serious had happened to their lives.

I thought to myself that this was a good example of how resilient children can be as they overcome the hardships of a disaster. To support them, UNICEF has set up child-friendly spaces in the temporary settlement areas where they can play and receive counselling support.

As I watched the children play, a man in his fifties came to me and asked what I was doing there in the camp. His name was Teddy, and I told him that I came to check whether the affected communities could access water, sanitation and hygiene.

Teddy welcomed me warmly and said: “Since I came here, we have regularly received drinking water but there is only one point where we can collect bathing water. All the ladies are there all the time, so I cannot go. I had to send my wife to fetch me a bucket of water so I could finally bathe today.”

It is important for us to get this kind of feedback so that we can improve services to be more responsive to community needs.

Immediate response

 

Volunteers demonstrating hand-washing in Leilei community© UNICEF/2014/Francis Wele

 

As soon as the disaster happened, UNICEF worked with the government and partners to restore access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, in order to prevent disease outbreaks. Together with partners, we have been delivering trucks of drinking water, constructing latrines, cleaning more than 110 wells, and running campaigns for hand-washing with soap.

One of the challenges was the low quality of water, sanitation and hygiene services prior to the flood. People mostly defecated in the open. Most wells were unprotected, and the water in them contaminated, forcing people to use unsafe water from the nearby river. For UNICEF, as we move to the next phase of recovery, the goal is to build back better so that communities become more resilient and children suffer less when a next disaster strikes.

The immediate task is to clean and rehabilitate wells so they are ready when people return to their homes. UNICEF and partners will help construct new wells with lining and covers to protect the clean water for their safe use.

On the day I was leaving, I found out that my colleague Donald had just had time to play with his three-year-old daughter for the first time in four weeks. All the UNICEF staff in the Solomon Islands have been working tirelessly to help the children and their communities recover from the floods. More remains to be done, but I am satisfied that we have made a strong start.

Author

Guy Mbayo Kakumbi is WASH in Emergencies Specialist at UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

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