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Fighting the Water Shortage in Fiji with Seagrass

Water Shortage in FijiWater supply is diminishing worldwide and its distribution is unequal. One in three people in the world lives in countries with insufficient clean water supplies. Hence, the current shortage and disproportionate availability spark conflict, commonly now known as water wars, over the valuable commodity. Scarcity in Fiji is a growing issue despite the exportation of Fiji water to developed nations; wealthier countries are largely removed from the other end of the supply chain and often exacerbate the water shortage in Fiji.

Concurrently, Fiji’s vulnerable economy, unaccommodating legal system and geological positioning are not well-suited to withstand clean freshwater scarcity. More and more, seagrass has proven to be an effective tool for this issue. Pathogen-reducing powers of seagrass help increase the limited availability of clean water for the island’s communities. The expanded harvesting of seagrass helps Fiji fight on the frontlines of the Water War.

Water Scarcity Threatens Stability and the Economy

Water makes up about 71% of Earth’s surface, with 97% oceans and 3% as freshwater. The already relatively small accessible freshwater source has become highly polluted. In 2018, roughly 0.4% of Earth’s water was drinkable and usable and consumption and contamination of water continue to increase globally.

Water wars are taking place because dissent over who should control specific access to water and how it should be distributed has no clear solution in increasingly desperate conditions. Along with this tension, economic growth could rapidly decline. As a result, food and product prices will plunge, consequently creating more instability, according to The Berkey.

The Water Shortage in Fiji

It is reported that 12% percent of Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water while FIJI Water extracts $43.01 million in water sales per year from the country. Fiji could face intensified droughts and rising sea levels over the next several years, inducing new water supply shortages.

Most of Fiji’s infrastructure is not able to withstand natural disasters. Suva, the capital of Fiji, is currently experiencing migration surges that exacerbate the gap between population and reliable resources, according to PreventionWeb.

Land Tenure Convolutes Water-related Conflict

Authority and legal systems in Fiji aggravate water shortage conflicts for the general public. The water supply in Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city, is controlled by landowners that charge high prices for water access. In 2003, Qerelevu Hindu School had to shut down because landowners demanded payment for the water supply of the school. The school’s headteacher reported that “Now, without any written order, the landowners are demanding we pay F$5,000 in goodwill and F$1,000 per household to get water. After we informed them that it was impossible for us to pay, as most of the people here cannot afford it, they disconnected the water supply. It’s almost three weeks now”.

Lack of Sanitation

Unlike its translucent reputation in developing countries, Fiji’s water is substantially unsanitary and poses numerous health issues for its residents. Typhoid fever, dysentery, diarrhea, Hepatitis A, gastroenteritis and many other water-transmitted diseases have become abundant in the Fiji Islands. Damaged infrastructure leads to saltwater intrusion and can contaminate wells and freshwater aquifers.

Seagrass as a Solution

Seagrass reduces water pollution and disease. This plant maintains coastal water quality and supports Fijian communities. Through photosynthesis, seagrass removes carbon dioxide from the water, serving to reduce ocean acidification.

In a recent 2022 study, a team led by Fortunato Ascioti, an ecologist at the University of Palermo in Italy, studied the sanitizing property of seagrass. They found that seagrass “could be responsible for a reduction of up to 24 million cases of gastroenteritis per year,” This could save as much as $74 million globally on health care alone.

In Fiji, seagrass also acts as a barrier to weaken waves on shorelines. This protects infrastructure from getting damage and contamination. 

Existing supply and distribution systems in Fiji are no longer capable of satisfying growing demand. Seagrass can alleviate the vulnerability of Fiji’s economy is worsened by diminishing the freshwater supply. Recent research reveals that seagrass sanitizes the sea; Fiji needs solutions to increase clean water availability for its communities, especially in the face of increasing populations in Fiji’s cities and in dealing with conflicts over property rights.

Anna Zawistowski
Photo: Wikimedia Commons