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Healthy Tokelau: Improving water security at the household and community level

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Tokelau is one of the smallest, most remote countries on the planet. With no ports, harbours, or airstrips, Tokelau is only serviced by a multi-day ferry from Samoa, which has to be met by barges from the atolls to transfer cargo and passengers.

No significant land is more than two metres above ordinary high tides. This means Tokelau is particularly vulnerable to the predicted rise in sea level. Owing to the environment and distance to its nearest neighbours, Tokelauans have to be self-reliant. Tokelauan water infrastructure is centred on rainwater collection, but increasing droughts diminish available water.

In 2011 we experienced a water drought. This showed that there is a minimal water capacity on the island - low capacity of water storage and low water quality. - Jewel Toloa, Tokelau National Coordinator, UNDP-SPREP Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Plus (PACC+) Project.


In response, the Government of Tokelau, with financing from the Government of Australia and technical assistance from UNDP in partnership with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is working to bolster the resiliency of islands’ water infrastructure. Increasing water harvest efficiency, improving storage facilities, and enhancing water quality by installing first flush diverters, forms part of a National Water Management Strategy formulated by the Government. The Strategy has been developed with broad community consultations and through technical experts provided through PACC. These efforts are working to ensure that people have uninterrupted access to clean drinking water across all three atolls.

For cooking, bathing, handwashing, everything, water is crucially important. That is why raising awareness and improving water conservation, especially with youth in the community, is so important. - Barbara Tali, PACC Focal Point, Atafu, Tokelau.

In Tokelau, the the Government is using the opportunity presented by this initiative to focus on enhancing the ability of its people to deal with the negative impacts of climate change such as continued droughts. The drought adaptation measures are part of a comprehensive National Climate Change policy developed through trainings organized on climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning. Community based actions are relied on to improve water access and quality in Tokelau, also a world leader in the use of renewable energy with 100 per cent of it energy supply in the form of solar energy.

The systematic interventions were significant contrasting the 2011 water shortage emergency situation. If you can imagine a festive season in the Pacific islands without water, then you can definitely understand the relief of a happy family who visited Tokelau over the 2012 festive season, grateful they had running water during their family holiday.

We were amazed that our water supply lasted the whole holiday and still the water tank was more than half full. I am so thankful for the PACC+ project because without this project we would have continued to face this stressful problem during our holidays. - Mikaele Mavaega Maiava, PACC + Coordinator, Nukunonu, Tokelau


The support that Tokelau has received through the UNDP-SPREP Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Plus Project (PACC+) has helped households improve their collection and storage of rainwater, giving them a reliable source of water during the drier months.

Activities on all 3 atolls have included: - Improving water harvesting at the household level, via guttering of households and installation of ‘first flush diverters’ (prevents the first tranche of rainwater – which can include bacteria, sediment, and pollutants – from being deposited in rainwater tanks) - Expanding rainwater harvesting infrastructure on community buildings and older houses with insufficient storage, - Reducing leakage in existing water storage tanks, and- Training Youth from the communities with the technical skills to support the installation work and their maintenance, as well as the ability to conduct regular water quality checks to ensure health gains are sustained.

As of Nov 2014, about 80% of 361 households on all three villages have 100% guttering coverage increasing Tokelau‘s total water capacity to 27,501,870 litres available during droughts. This has increased the saved and available water to 10 times more the available water now compared to the past. - Jewel Toloa, PACC+ Tokelau National Coordinator.

FOOTNOTES: Story by Andrea Egan and David Angelson