A four-month drought in the central Tongan island group of Ha’apai is putting stress on drinking water supplies already diminished by saltwater intrusion.
Some people – especially women and children mostly affected by the water shortage – from the more remote communities are needing to travel long distances (into central Pangai) to get water from churches and schools who have a more secure water supply. This is putting extra strain on those other sources.
Caritas, in response to residents’ concerns, is urgently providing a mix of traditional water collection systems and commercial water tanks to ensure drinkable water for more than 2400 people in five acutely affected villages.
The issue came to light during a visit to the area by staff from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Caritas Tonga. They were scoping a climate change programme, aiming to understand better what communities were facing in terms of saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion and drought.
‘Villages in the area had very minimal rainfall during the last wet season in June and July and are now experiencing water shortages,’ says Leo Duce of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
‘These communities have been aware of weather pattern changes and have asked Caritas to support them with the establishment of traditional and commercial water collection systems to collect water in the next 2-3 months when more rains are expected.’
Residents will participate in construction and be involved in a community management and maintenance system. The programme covers Pangai, Ha’atou, Holopeka, Koulo and Hihifo villages, and has included liaison with government departments and other key stakeholders in the area.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is supporting the emergency water management programme with $75,000.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has worked closely with Caritas Tonga for more than a decade in emergency response and long-term development programmes.