Low Cost Solar Water Disinfection Campaign Rolls Out In Kiribati

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

News Release

Secretariat of the Pacific Community South Tarawa, Kiribati

June 4, 2015

A national campaign was launched in Kiribati last week to roll out solar water disinfection or SODIS to improve health and curb diarrheal diseases throughout the country.

SODIS is a simple, low cost method to disinfect contaminated drinking water. While endorsed by the World Health Organization in 2000 and used globally by more than 10 million people, it is relatively new to the Pacific Island region.

The decision by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services or MHMS to roll out SODIS nationally marks a turning point in Kiribati and the Pacific.

"This is an exciting moment in Kiribati, as SODIS can now be taught across Kiribati to help improve the health of our people. Based on the research and the campaign in Bairiki community, we now know that SODIS works to curb diarrheal diseases. Rolling out the campaign nationally is a huge endeavor, and one that requires extensive support and partnerships at all levels," remarked Tebikau Tibwe, chief health inspector, MHMS Environmental Health Unit

Prior to the national launch, a "SODIS - Cheap - Simple - Safe" campaign was conducted over a 6-month period in Kawan Bairiki community, one of the lowest income and most densely populated communities of South Tarawa, Kiribati. Here water sources are often contaminated with bacteria, and families struggle daily to secure safe drinking water.

The campaign was designed and launched by the European Union funded Global Climate Change Alliance: Pacific Small Island States or GCCA: PSIS project, implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and carried out in collaboration with the Kiribati MHMS – Environmental Health Unit and the Office of Te Beretitenti (the President).

The SODIS method involves exposing water to the sun in clear bottles on a reflective surface for 6 hours. The combined effect of the ultraviolet radiation and the heat from the sun results in water that is safe for consumption. A scientific research study was conducted in Kiribati prior to the campaign launch.

"We have found the SODIS method is better than boiling water for disinfection purposes. It is simpler, lower cost, reliable, less time consuming, provides job opportunities, and even tastes better. But the overall driver for our families to use SODIS is to improve their health," explains Tianuare Taeuea, the GCCA: PSIS project officer in Kiribati.

In Kiribati, water borne diseases such as diarrhea are a major concern to households and MHMS, as they account for the nation having the highest child mortality rate in the Pacific, with 63 out of every 1,000 children not living until their 5th birthday.

"SODIS has significantly decreased the amount of diarrheal and respiratory disease across our community, especially in women and children. This makes a huge difference in our lives, as our families are happier and healthier and our children are able to attend school much more regularly. We are very thankful to the donors and government of Kiribati for selecting our community for this project," says the community campaign leader, Teretia Tabutoa.

The GCCA: PSIS project is a $12.7 million project funded by the European Union, implemented regionally by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and nationally by each of the nine participating governments. In Kiribati, project activities focus on environmental health surveillance and response to climate sensitive health risks.

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