Water Quality in Tonga

Situated in the Pacific Islands, Tonga is among one of several countries in the region to experience water scarcity and quality issues. An island chain of more than 170, Tonga is limited in access to freshwater resources, much of which is sourced directly from groundwater. In addition to groundwater and springs, Tongans collect water from surface resources, which on most islands is extremely difficult to come by. A few different issues are the culprit for scarcity, and subsequently, water quality in Tonga.

One of the primary concerns is the overuse and exploitation of water on larger islands. Tongatapu, one of the most densely populated islands in Tonga, accounts for 69 percent of the total population. Its water consumption rates are continually on the rise.

In addition to poor water use practice, Tonga also experiences poor management with wastewater. All of the wastewater is managed individually rather than through a unified system. The wastewater then becomes the burden of the community: with little to no help from the government, issues with quality and sanitation are unavoidable.

Tonga also lacks water management infrastructure. Water resource use and sanitation center data is currently not nationally exchanged through an organized sharing system, making it difficult to regulate and monitor.

Because there are limited resources to ameliorate these issues, supervision of water quality in Tonga has been taken over by its residents with some supplemental assistance from the Tongan government and the World Health Organization.

In an effort to provide risk assessment and management for villages experiencing poor water conditions, the government has administered a Water Safety Plan. This plan is designed to pay specific attention to the causes of contamination of water supplies. It also considers which measures must be taken to reduce these risks and make improvements to existing water systems.

Communities are urged to take part in these action plans to learn more about their individual water resource systems and identify with the ecosystem that supports them.

In 2009, 10 villages were set up to take part in the Water Safety Plans, and eight more have been added since. The World Health Organization is working to provide training support for the Tongan government to implement the plan further.

Water quality in Tonga is also being tackled by using methods of public outreach and education. The Tonga Trust developed the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in 2008, which works toward changing behaviors of residents and visitors to be more mindful of water use and hygienic practice.

Expected outcomes are for villages to identify their Water Safety Plans, increase the frequency of WASH’s message through media outlets, create posters and manuals in the local language promoting sanitation, establish WASH committees throughout the islands and increase stakeholder involvement.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Poor water quality is a prevalent epidemic in the Polynesian islands of Tonga. Despite the fairly steady supply of water in the islands, sourced from rainwater catchment systems and groundwater, water quality in Tonga needs improvement to prevent potentially deadly waterborne illnesses. The inability to access appropriate sanitation, as well as the cultural absence of hygienic attitudes, led the Tongan government to intervene in community affairs.

A major contributor to poor water quality in Tonga is the lack of any statistical information about water distribution or a centralized sewage system. No data exchange systems have been enforced because much of the country’s water consumption is managed at a communal level, bearing little to no legislative authority. Although Tonga’s Ministry of Health attempted to keep the water supply free from wastewater contamination, the local community remains in control of wastewater due to the culture of the islands.

Another factor that inhibits water quality in Tonga is that the population has grown by 46,000 people in the last decade, according to the Pacific Community. The steady increase of population created greater pressure on how the water supply is managed and treated. It is now more important than ever for Tonga to ensure that the quality of water is acceptable.

Despite the absence of authority regarding water resources, the Tongan government recently enforced the Water Supply Plan. The World Health Organization defines this as “a risk assessment and risk management plan for water supplies that, when implemented, reduces or eliminates the water becoming contaminated by pathogens, chemical or through physical means.” Part of this plan includes educational programs which are also successful in raising cautionary awareness towards water quality and personal sanitation.

The road to improvement for Tongan water quality is optimistic. According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, external aid from the EU provided 1.1 million euros to address water security for the Kingdom of Tonga, which is used for innovative technology to make collecting and cleaning water more efficient and secure. However, establishing lasting improvement of the water quality in Tonga is ultimately dependent on members of the community who must comply with the governmental pleas to change.

Mary Hocker

Photo: Flickr