Community-driven change brings water security to Tonga – Tonga

“Eua Island is home to the Kingdom of Tonga’s last protected national forests, as well as its only natural sources of water from spring-fed streams. But this lush ecosystem is also highly vulnerable to a series of natural disasters, which frequently pose significant water supply problems for the population of Eua. Long periods of drought are often punctuated by increasingly intense tropical cyclones. Heavy rains drag sediment and mud into streams, contaminating them, while earthquakes displace or displace existing aquifers. Because the island lacks wastewater treatment plants and sufficient infrastructure to pump drinking water in many villages, these events repeatedly threaten the quantity of drinking water, have an impact on basic sanitation and reduce the amount of water available for agricultural irrigation and home gardens managed by many women. .

And despite its proximity to Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, ‘Eua isn’t always the first to garner attention or relief. “In the event of a natural disaster [relief] and [when defining] development priorities, the focus is usually on the main island and the capital, ”says Sunia Havea, the former Tongan government representative to ‘Eua.

This is why Sunia, among many others, is pleased to see IFAD supporting communities in Tonga through the TRIP II project, a holistic approach to natural resource management that enables communities in Tonga to build their resilience. climate and improve their livelihoods.

The heart of the TRIP II project is its community approach. With this method, residents of participating communities are themselves centrally involved in the planning, prioritization and design of community development plans (CDPs), as well as the sub-projects generated by these plans. Through this community-led process, residents of the 15 communities of ‘Eua identified access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water as one of their top priorities and implemented a resilience subproject. at the water. With the help of TRIP II, they installed rain catchment tanks for 885 households across the island, providing a sustainable alternative source of clean water. The project will also help communities maintain reservoirs in the future.

Fuifui Luau is just one of the island residents who benefited from the project. Its main water source was an old cement rainwater catchment system that had fallen into disrepair and could no longer be used. He relied on his neighbor’s water tank, which sometimes caused conflicts when water was scarce.

“We are delighted to have a new tank installed in our house for our daily use,” he says. “I am able to get the water from the reservoir on my own without having to look elsewhere. “

Community development: the key to lasting change

Community-based approaches are fundamental to building trust and ensuring sustained engagement. The highly participatory process, as well as the fact that the project and the community share the costs of the sub-projects, promotes a strong sense of local ownership. In this case, the islanders of Eua mobilized 50% of the funding – an extraordinary effort.

Support from local partners is also crucial for implementation. In Tonga, IFAD is working closely with the MORDI Tonga Trust (TT), a local NGO, to roll out the project. MORDI TT has helped to facilitate collective membership, especially among district and city officers, whose support for the project is fundamental.

MORDI TT also helped establish and train community water sub-committees responsible for formulating and implementing the water resilience sub-project. This included raising additional funds for the project, including from the islanders themselves. Despite the many difficulties these communities faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they made matching contributions in materials and labor, as well as cash contributions.

Previously, participants had secured cash contributions through remittances and the sale of their agricultural products, crafts and fish in markets. With the global economic downturn, including travel and trade restrictions, it was difficult for households to raise the necessary matching funds to complete the project. But the community always comes first in Tonga and proudly the ‘Eua communities have worked together to find other ways to raise funds to ensure the success of the project.

As always, projects like these need to be sensitive to their local contexts. Community-led approaches require more time, staff commitment and financial resources to implement, especially when working with communities in very remote locations and on outer islands. In addition, translating technical concepts into non-technical explanations, working in harmony with cultural practices, and identifying and building the capacity of individual project champions were essential in moving the work forward.

The water resilience sub-projects have not been without challenges. For example, the 2019 local elections resulted in the replacement of 40% of municipal officials. This required additional awareness and training to bring the new officers up to speed.

CDPs as a development planning platform

TRIP II demonstrates that these approaches are essential for improving uptake of new interventions and for building a long-term vision for institutional sustainability. The community-developed CDPs will be publicly available on the Tonga local government website and can be used to inform the national development agenda. They can also serve as a platform to engage other development partners to channel resources and investments in line with communities’ priorities. “The islanders of Eua, for example, used theirs to secure co-funding for their water project from the governments of Australia and the Republic of Korea.

Sunia Havea, the former government representative, said she was very satisfied with the project, noting that in 2021, “all our ‘Eua communities will be secure in water. This means that all of our communities will have much improved water quality. The new water reservoir infrastructure is a significant achievement – and one that is likely to last, as an invested and engaged community built it.

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