Pacific Islands

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Pacific Islands is part of / comprises: · Asia & Pacific · Eastern Asia · Micronesia · Pacific Islands ·
Countries of Pacific Islands: · Cook Islands · Fiji · Papua New Guinea · Samoa · Solomon Islands · Vanuatu ·
Water Basins of Pacific Islands: · Merauke · Sepik ·
edit Facts & Figures
Area 524,921 km2
  Land 514,021 km2
  Water 10,900 km2
Population 7,626,891
Population Density 15 /km2
UN Presence
Land Use:
Cultivated Land 14,526 km2
  Arable 5,211 km2
  Permanent Crops 9,315 km2
Irrigated Land 130 km2
Average Annual Rainfall 1,460 mm
Total Available Renewable Water Resources 874 km3
Total Water Withdrawals 0 km3/yr
References and Remarks

Contents


Region Profile: Climate, Geography, Socio-Economic Context

There are about 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, only 2,000 of which are inhabited. Many of the populated islands are less than 10 km2, while some, especially atolls, are less than 1 km2. The 18 Pacific Island countries and territories considered in this study account for 550,000 km2 of land and some 7 million inhabitants spread across 180 million km2 of ocean – about 36% of the earth’s surface. If Papua New Guinea, a large island country, is excluded, the land mass drops to 88,000 km2, occupied by 2.6 million people. Of this population, 1.6 million live in Melanesia, 600,000 in Polynesia and 450,000 in Micronesia.


The climate of the small tropical Pacific islands depends on location and season, but is usually hot and humid, except in the cool highlands of some Melanesian islands. The year in many areas is equally divided between the dry and wet seasons. South of the equator in Melanesia and Polynesia, the dry season is from May to October. The wet season, which lasts the other six months, can include a period of cyclones in some locations. North of the equator in Micronesia, these seasons are reversed. Average annual rainfall varies considerably in the tropical Pacific, from over 4,000 mm to less than 500 mm. The higher altitudes of volcanic islands receive more rain, with about a 10% increase per 100 metre rise in elevation.


Climate - Air-Sea Interactions and Frequent Storms

Two of the most important climatic influences on small Pacific islands are tropical storms and the El Niño and La Niña phenomena. The natural pattern of El Niño and La Niña episodes has a significant impact on many small islands, producing extensive wet and dry cycles. For example, an El Niño event combined with other climatic and oceanographic conditions brings abundant rainfall in the central Pacific but can cause catastrophic drought in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the other Melanesian islands. The reverse condition, known as La Niña, causes serious drought in the low equatorial islands of western Kiribati.


In addition to problems stemming from existing climatic variability, climate change and sea level rise could significantly exacerbate the situation. Climate change scenarios for the Pacific islands vary widely, depending on location and the model used. Most models predict an increase in frequency of El Niño episodes and intensity of cyclones (World Bank, 2000). There is less certainty about changes to rainfall, which could affect the availability of freshwater resources, although a general increase in sea temperature might favour an increase in rainfall for very small islands. Current scenarios indicate a rise in sea level of about 0.2 to 0.4 metres over the next few decades. Even the slightest rise is of great concern for small, low-lying island countries whose maximum elevations are only a few meters above sea level. Tarawa atoll in Kiribati has been the focus of impact studies under various scenarios for sea level rise and climate change. Results of groundwater modelling studies to assess the combined effect of pumping, climate change and sea level rise indicate that the impact of initial sea level rise on aquifers is not detrimental (World Bank, 2000). This is particularly so when they are compared with the impact of current climate variability, pollution of groundwater from human settlements and overpumping (White et al., 2007). Preliminary assessment of vulnerability and adaptation in some Pacific island countries in relation to climate change identified improved management and maintenance of existing water supply systems as a high priority, given the relatively low costs associated with reducing system losses and improving water quality.

Region Profile: Water Bodies and Resources

The limited freshwater supply in small Pacific islands is used for various purposes, including for towns, industrial activities, agriculture and forestry, tourism, environmental needs and mining. Non-consumptive uses include hydropower generation (e.g. in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu), navigation and recreation. To meet growing demand, naturally occurring water resources are supplemented with non-conventional ones. The former are surface water, groundwater and rainwater collection; the latter include desalination, imports, wastewater recycling and use of seawater or brackish water for selected purposes where potable water is not needed.


Some islands, including in Fiji and Tonga, have imported water as an emergency measure during severe drought. In some instances, people move from water-scarce islands to others nearby with more water. On many small islands, local or imported bottled water is an alternative for drinking water, although it costs more than water supplied by local water authorities.


Recycled wastewater is not a common source in small island countries but is sometimes used to irrigate gardens and recreational areas at tourist resorts and hotels, notably in Fiji and Maldives.


During severe droughts or after natural disasters, coconut water can substitute for fresh drinking water. People on some of the smaller outer islands of Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea, for example, have survived on coconuts during extremely dry periods. The coconut palm is very salt-tolerant and can continue to produce fruit even when groundwater turns brackish. Per capita freshwater use varies considerably between and within island states. It depends on availability, quality, type and age of water distribution system, cultural and socio-economic factors and administrative procedures. Although typical water use is of the order of 50 to 150 litres per person per day, leakage in poorly maintained systems can lead to unnecessarily high consumption. Water supply to resorts can also account for a high proportion of total water use on some small islands or parts thereof. Daily personal consumption in such resorts can be as high as 500 litres (UNESCO, 1991). Many small islands, particularly coral atolls and small limestone islands, generally do not have sufficient water resources for irrigated agriculture, or suitable soil conditions. Irrigation on small islands thus tends to occur on a relatively minor scale except in cases like that of Fiji, where agriculture – primarily water-intensive cultivation of sugar cane as a cash crop – is the largest water user. The use of seawater and brackish waters can conserve valuable freshwater resources. For example, in densely populated parts of Tarawa and Majuro (Marshall Islands), dual pipe systems distribute freshwater and seawater. Seawater or brackish well water is used for baths, power plant cooling and firefighting, as well as in swimming pools.

Region Profile: Legal and Institutional Environment

Highly Complex and Rooted in Tradition

Water governance in small islands is highly complex because of socio-political and cultural structures related to tradition. Many inherited practices, rights and interests concerning the extended family, community, or tribal and inter-island relations may conflict with the demands of urbanized societies. Addressing related difficulties requires political will and institutional reform at all levels to create a framework for integrated water resources management (IWRM), as well as behavioural change through long term awareness and advocacy campaigns, education, training and the like.


IWRM is a relatively new concept for Pacific island countries, and the formal development of this holistic approach within national governance structures is not widespread. Only a few countries have started drafting national IWRM plans. Yet the underlying approach, which involves taking socio-cultural, technical, economic and environmental factors into account in the development and management of water resources, has existed in traditional practices for centuries in Pacific island countries. In addition, since the 1990s it has been increasingly recognized that IWRM is necessary to adequately address competing water demands sustainably. The major governance-related difficulties facing Pacific island countries are fragmented management structure, with multiple agencies dealing with water resources; lack of an overarching policy; outdated laws; poor administration capacity for integration, stemming from insufficient interministerial cooperation; and inadequate budgetary resources allocated to the water sector (PIFS/SOPAC, 2005). These combine to hamper progress towards preparation of water use efficiency plans and application of IWRM.

Region Profile: Trends in Transboundary Water Management

Region Profile: Challenges and Opportunities

Articles

Recently updated articles on Pacific Islands
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Projects and Case Studies

Projects in or about Pacific Islands

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  1. Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management Project ‎(3,057 views) . . WikiBot
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  3. Banking the Unbanked in Fiji: The ANZ Bank and UNDP Partnership ‎(6,443 views) . . WikiBot


Case studies in or about Pacific Islands

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  1. Facing Water Challenges in the Pacific Islands:A WWDR3 Case Study ‎(20,753 views) . . WikiBot


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Publications

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Who is Who

People working in Pacific Islands

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Organizations working in Pacific Islands

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References


See also

External Resources

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