Safe, reliable and resilient water supply services contribute hugely to achieving national development goals and agendas. However, small island nations are up against some very particular challenges, which can make these goals hard to realise. Many islands may look like paradise, but are actually very harsh environments in terms of the provision of safe water supply with heavy rainfall, high turbidity rates and a lack of water storage making them particularly susceptible to flood, drought and the effects of climate change.
Social problems relating to water also abound. During our work in the Caribbean, we were repeatedly told that access to water was undervalued, with the public prioritising their mobile phone bills over their water bills. However, the value of water becomes all too apparent when it is no longer available, such as after Hurricane Dorian which hit the region in 2019. The category five hurricane caused major disruption to essential water supplies, as well as to services such as hospitals, schools and government facilities.
On top of this, the water authorities for small island nations have over-stretched human resources capacity and face a lack of financial resources. This means appropriate technical solutions that could improve the reliability and robustness of water supply systems are out of reach, and authorities often don’t have the capacity to attract enough investment to prioritise climate resilience challenges, let alone to conduct regular maintenance. This, in turn, leads to a vicious cycle of water supply systems becoming progressively degraded and increasingly less resilient over time.