Water for life

Changing how communities think about water in Oceania

Water is a fundamental necessity of life, and managing water—who uses it and how—is a key challenge in developing countries.

Decisions about how to use scarce freshwater for drinking, agriculture, industry, and the environment can lead to conflict. In Oceania, this is often complicated by questions of who should make the decisions—governments, landholders, industry or others.

Associate Professor Katherine Daniell of the Australian National University led a multi-partner program to better understand the issues and build tools for improved water governance, working with colleagues from France’s National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA), National Research Institute for International Development (IRD), the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), and the New Caledonian Institute for Agricultural Research (IAC).

In a project funded by the French Government’s Fond Pacifique, they looked at water management in the VKP region of New Caledonia, Tarawa in Kiribati, and the Mardoowarra or Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Australia.

“We took different approaches to find out what was happening,” Katherine says.

“For instance, we used a game designed by colleagues at IRSTEA and CIRAD called Wat-A-Game that lets people model their water system using cardboard and pebbles, to show how water moves and how people use it. In Kiribati, even the local water management organisation didn’t know about all the different ways people were using water.”

The project also arranged meetings between water managers from different countries to share stories and exchange knowledge.

“One important result was to raise the profile of water governance research in the French part of the Pacific. We’re starting to build toolkits to improve water planning and get more views represented. This was just a beginning.”

Banner image: A water workshop in Kiribati. Credit: Nils Ferrand / IRSTEA