Photo of awardees -From left to right: Mr Collin Benjamin, Ms Sheilla Funubo and Ms Tema Wickham – with Stuart Bunn, Director of the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University.

Three Solomon Islanders – Collin Benjamin and Sheilla Funubo (Solomon Islands National University) and Tema Wickham (Plan International-Pacific) – won the “Big Ideas” competition at the International Water and WASH Futures Conference, 13-17 February, 2023 on Wednesday night in Brisbane for their idea, presented in a video, entitled “Bringing WASH enterprises closer to rural communities in Solomon Islands”. Their Big Idea was that the resources for the sustainable operation and maintenance of community water systems should not only be based at the national and provincial levels but also at the Ward level, suggesting that RWASH officers should have an operation and maintenance program at this level, work with Ward Development Committees and explore the possibility of supporting small to medium size enterprises (spare parts shops) at the Ward level.

The runner up for the competition was Peni Winimala, from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, for his ‘”Big Idea” entitled “Breaking the barriers to youth participation on rural water committees”.

The International Water and WASH Futures conference is being attended by 400 people from 55 countries, and is one of the world’s preeminent water resource management and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) conferences.

Seven staff from the School of Public Health, Solomon Islands National University (SINU), are currently in Brisbane, Australia, to attend and present at the conference. Their participation was supported by the International WaterCentre, Griffith University. All seven SINU affiliated staff have been working on several applied research projects under the Australian Governments Water for Women Fund over the last five years.

Collin Benjamin (assistant lecturer) presented a paper entitled “Planning for uncertain climate risks to community water: Water Security Improvement Planning in Solomon Islands”, reporting on some of the results of a project undertaken with Plan International, Earth, Water, People, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International WaterCentre (IWC).

Jamesford Keboy (assistant lecturer in biostatistics) and Daphne Maneniaru (casual lecturer and tutor) presented a paper on “Behaviour change for promoting safe and equitable child faeces management in Solomon Islands”. Sheilla Funubo (casual lecturer and tutor) co-presented a paper with Dr Mark Love (IWC) called “Water is everyone’s business: Social marketing to motivate water committees and communities”. Clement Lifoia (tutor, epidemiology) co-presented a training session with Rosie Sanderson (IWC) on child faeces management as part of a full-day training session entitled “Unpacking the realities of behaviour change interventions at scale”.

Dr Hugo Bugoro and Nixon Panda (SINU) also attended the conference and were co-authors on numerous papers associated with the Pacific Community Water Management plus (PaCWaM+) project – a five year, applied research program undertaken in Solomon Islands and Fiji in partnership with SINU, Plan International, and Live and Learn Environmental Education (Solomon Islands), and the University of the South Pacific (Fiji). A smaller component of the project, building on the lessons learned in Solomon Islands and Fiji, was also undertaken in Vanuatu, with the Department of Water Resources, Vanuatu Red Cross, and the University of the South Pacific (Vanuatu) focused on Drinking Water Safety and Security Planning.

Tema Wickham (Plan International Pacific) also co-presented a paper with Samantha Kies-Ryan (Earth, Water, People) on “Photovoice and inter-community dialogue for catchment management in Solomon Islands”.

All of these projects were funded under the Water for Women Fund.

Dr Regina Souter, Acting Director of the International Water Centre , stated that:

β€œInternational conferences such as the Water and WASH Futures Conference are an important opportunity for Solomon Islands researchers to share their findings, raising awareness of the strengths and challenges facing the people of Solomon Islands in ensuring everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. It is also an opportunity to hear about how these challenges are being addressed in other places, including from other Pacific Island countries. The winning of the Big Ideas Award is recognition by an international judging panel that idea presented by the team from SINU and Plan International (Pacific) has merit and should be considered for development.”

Also in attendance at the conference are Ms Pauline McNeil, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Dr Nemia Bainivalu, Depurty Secretary MHMS and Jack Filomea, RWASH program manager.

Despite efforts by the government and donors, the provision of sustainable and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in Solomon Islands remains poor – as of 2020, only 63% of the rural population had access to a source of water that meets the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 definition of basic service level. This is in stark contrast to 91% of the urban population. We need new ideas. It is gratifying to see SINU becoming active in applied research on water, sanitation and hygiene.