A study was conducted to understand the structure, processes, and actions of water committees in Indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) villages as part of the Watershed Interventions in Systems Health in Fiji (WISH Fiji) project. Village water committees are important as they address and manage issues in their local communities. They have local knowledge which can help set standards of what is acceptable behaviour and enforce rules about water.
Publishing their results in the International Journal of Water Resources Development, the multidisciplinary team included Sarah Nelson, Seye Abimbola, Aaron Jenkins and Joel Negin from the University of Sydney, Sangeeta Mangubhai and Stacy Jupiter from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and Kelera Naivalu and Vilisi Naivalulevu from Fiji National University.
The authors found:
(1) roles of the committees were water infrastructure management and maintenance, and providing advice on water conservation,
(2) water committees’ membership size varied (especially the number of women members)
(3) there were gendered divisions on committee roles (for example, women were typically the committee secretary, and men were responsible for fixing and managing pipe damage), and
(4) management actions were proactive (e.g. cleaning and maintenance of pipes) and reactive (e.g. fixing a pipe when it bursts).
The study found that reactive management is more common in water committees, but these are ad-hoc short-term unplanned adaptive responses and only occur when problems arise. However, there needs to be greater push into aiding villages to make proactive decisions, but this requires greater planning and in some cases, funding.
Social and cultural norms underlie the decision-making processes and structures of village water committees, with men playing dominant roles.
Promoting women’s roles in water committees and decision-making is a way to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) and Goal 6 (ensure access to water and sanitation for all people). Ensuring everyone in the village is represented on the water committee is important as it helps promote ownership and buy-in from the village to protect and value water resources.
Sarah Nelson explains, “With Fiji facing growing issues from climate change and its potential impact on water access, it is important to understand how committees work so future decisions, actions and interventions to support with water committees with their long-term water security, and help promote equitable water access for everyone in the village.”
Findings from this study will be used to help the WISH Fiji project strengthen village level activities of water management and decision-making. This work was supported by the Stronger Systems for Health Security grant scheme by the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia and by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Vibrant Oceans Initiative.
FULL PAPER: Nelson S, Abimbola S, Mangubhai S, Jenkins A, Jupiter S, Naivalu K, Naivalulevu V, Negin J (2021) Understanding the decision-making structures, roles, and actions of village-level water committees in Fiji. International Journal of Water Resources Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2021.1916449