Healthy River Healthy Community

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FCDP has been supporting Live and Learn Environmental Education Fiji (Live and Learn) in the North to promote the linkages between healthy river systems, sustainable rural livelihoods, and better human health.  This is a story of the positive changes observed in community understanding, behaviour and attitudes.     

“I now realise the role I play in keeping my family safe from communicable diseases,” said Waita Rokoqica, Batiri Village Women’s Leader. “Through the civic education trainings provided by Live and Learn) I take it as my personal responsibility to keep our rivers and drinking water safe. This is not just an oath for my family but for my community too.”

Waita supports one of the Live and learn pilot projects – the “Sustainable Livelihood Opportunities in Rural & Remote Communities of Fiji” which started in 2013 in the Northern division, involving six communities: Nayarailagi, Batiri, Drawa, Lutukina, Keka and Vatuvonu.

Live and Learn Project Coordinator, Timoci Naivalulevu, says these communities were chosen because the river is their only source of water and a major source of food and income due to the remote location According to Timoci the river care project was suited for the six communities as they are all dependant on the rivers as a food source and water supply.

Timoci explains that their message to motivate the communities is not sugar coated.  “The equation is simple; if there is more deforestation then there will be more flooding as trees prevent sediment runoff and forests hold and use more water. This means less food and drinking water for the villages,” he adds.

The Village Headman for Lutukina, Inoke Waqawaqa says the project has changed the way Lutukina residents now view the river. “Before Live and Learn came to us we knew that water was important but we never had the knowledge to properly manage and we did not realise the value of proper care for our rivers,” he explains.

Mr Waqawaqa adds that due to the trainings provided by Live and Learn, villagers have now seen big changes not only to the rivers but also within the community. Villagers have stopped dumping household rubbish in the rivers and there is a village by-law now that there will be no defecation in the rivers.

One of the successes of the project is the reduction in water-borne diseases after Live and Learn’s training. From April to November 2014, a significant decrease in reported cases of typhoid from the six communities was noted by nearby health centres.  “This is a big achievement as previously Batiri Village was known as the “hotspot” for Typhoid and water borne diseases and from Batiri it used to spread to other villages as well,” explains Timoci.

Meba, from Drawa Settlement, adds that the project has also brought the villagers closer. “We have now become empowered to take responsibility for the project actions in our village. It has been very encouraging to see the youths of the communities changing and taking the lead to protect the rivers,” she said.

Live and Learn plans a follow up visit to the six communities in 2015 with other stakeholders from the government, including the Environmental Section of the Department of Health, the Lands and Water Resources Management section of the Agriculture Department, the Departments of Forests and of Fisheries, the Department of Lands, and the Ministry of Youth along with donors and other CSOs to consult on the changes in the communities after the implementation of the project.