PALIKIR, Micronesia — The Federated States of Micronesia is an independent island nation located southwest of Hawaii. The sovereign country comprises about 607 islands in the western Pacific region and has a free association agreement with the United States. There are approximately 70 public and community water systems in the country. However, only five undergo any type of treatment or adequate maintenance.
Poor water quality in Micronesia has caused real damage in the past. For example, about two decades ago, a cholera outbreak in the Pohnpei island resulted in 20 deaths and 3,500 people being affected. Poor wastewater control was found to be the cause of the epidemic. Even today, Pohnpei is rampant with high levels of water diseases such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea and amoebiasis.
The majority of Micronesia’s public water supply comes from surface water and groundwater lens. This includes water collected from the rainwater catchments on the roof or drawn from hand-dug wells.
The islands also contain underground water resources, which have been found to have high concentrations of iron. The scarcity of water combined with the increasing pollution of surface and groundwater has largely affected the quality of life in the country.
Deforestation of island’s watersheds has been another major concern, causing sedimentation of the coastal areas and degradation of the lagoons. Water resource management is not adequately addressed due to a lack of capacity.
Micronesia’s most important natural resource is its ocean. Remarkably, the country’s entire land mass covers more than a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Its exclusive economic zone yields about $200 million from tuna harvesting alone.
Like many of its sister low-lying islands and remote atolls in the Pacific, Micronesia is not immune to the wide-ranging effects of climate change. Rising temperatures and sea levels have threatened the fisheries, tourism and agriculture – sectors that are the source of subsistence for Micronesians. Though climate change has already shaped the islands’ landscape in the various ways, it has the potential to further contaminate freshwater reserves, bring coastal erosion and flooding, cause water brackishness, destroy coral reefs, invite storm surges and damage local infrastructure.
Proactive measures are now being utilized to educate residents of the issue of water quality in Micronesia. For example, while the rainwater catchment systems have passed the water quality tests in most cases, residents have been urged to disinfect water prior to consumption.
Outside the urban areas, health and sanitary education are being utilized to deal with and prevent water-related diseases and improve water quality in Micronesia.
Micronesia has, along with other Pacific nations, readily implemented the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRW) initiative, funded by the European Union, to “address the sustainable development, allocation and monitoring of water resources.” This is certain to be a roadmap for implementing efficient water planning and management in the future and improve water quality in Micronesia.
As Rhonda Robinson, an IWRM adviser at the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission, explains, “An Integrated Water Resources Management approach enables coordinated management and planning to achieve sustainable solutions for water and sanitation issues over the long term,” she said. “It provides the process for action and results.”
Actions and results are necessary components of meaningful changes. By taking starting steps like this, Micronesia’s swath of islands can enhance and preserve their water resources for the future generations.
– Mohammed Khalid