Spearfighting for water: Enhancing clean & climate-resilient water systems in the Solomon Islands

Source(s): United Nations Development Programme

On the remote island of Santa Catalina, one of 900 islands that comprise the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, a traditional spear fighting festival takes place every May/June. Aligned with the new year in the local, traditional calendar, the timing of the ceremonial spear fighting means that locals are able to settle disagreements and meet the coming year with conflicts resolved.

The spear fighting festival (known locally as Wogasia), brings the men of the island’s two tribes together at dawn and at dusk, bodies caked in mud and sharpened sticks in hand. Battles are arranged obliquely and metaphorically; one combatant might hint to another that his turtle will be at the beach by tomorrow’s dawn. In that way, the other party will know that they will be facing each other in the spear fight the next day.

Though spear fighting is obviously central to this event, the Wogasia goes well beyond the fight and the need to resolve differences. It is a three-day festival of complex rituals to ensure that the community can start afresh and begin the new year on the right foot.

The festival’s colourful displays have attracted international interest, and have become one of the country’s most important tourist attractions. But increased interest comes with increased environmental pressures, particularly on water supplies.

As tourism increases, and the pressure on water increases, there is great potential to align incentives and benefits in positive ways. If managed thoughtfully, the festival can provide a unique opportunity to leverage sustainable tourism as a catalyst for positive change.

Isolated Beauty

Santa Catalina is the 2nd most remote site of the Solomon Islands Water Sector Adaptation Project (SIWSAP). From the country’s capital Honiara, it takes two expensive flights and an infrequent boat to access the island. Because of weather conditions and coastal topography, the resulting rough seas make transport particularly difficult and dangerous.

Due to this isolation, the locals depend upon the harvest of agricultural products from community gardens, as well as locally harvested fruits and seafood. Other than timber and sago leaves imported from the mainland for home construction, the community is largely self-reliant and independent.

Santa Catalina has limited fresh water resources and the island is therefore heavily dependent on rainfall and groundwater. With these challenges, coupled with an eroding coastline on an already limited landmass, the impacts of climate change - particularly sea-level rise and pronounced droughts - have severe consequences for water and sanitation in the Solomon Islands.

With funding from the Global Environmental Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund and supported by UNDP, the Solomon Islands Water Sector Adaptation Project (SIWSAP) is working to address water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges brought on by climate change in water stressed communities in six pilot sites throughout the Solomon Islands. The work centres on sites in six of the country’s nine provinces: Gizo, Taro, Tingoa, Ferafalu, Tuwo, and Santa Catalina.

The work in Santa Catalina Community will tackle pressing water and sanitation challenges – with an eye to the future as the impacts of climate change become more severe.

Championed by the Government of the Solomon Islands through the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification Water Resources Division in partnership with Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, Ministry of Health and Medical Services (Environmental Health Division), SIWSAP activities are designed to ensure access to safe and affordable drinking water and to increase the reliability and quality of water supplies in targeted areas.

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