WISH Fiji Reduces Water-Related Disease Risk; Facilitates Access to Cleaner Water

Through a systems approach to watershed management, the Watershed Interventions for Systems Health in Fiji (WISH Fiji) project has provided access to cleaner quality water for over 5,000 residents and has helped reduce the risk of water-related disease in 29 communities across five watersheds in Fiji.

Over the past four years, the WISH Fiji project has worked to transform environmental and public health action from reactive to preventative, while improving systems health of coastal watersheds to maintain the integrity and buffer against water-related disease and natural disasters. This has been done by identifying common drivers associated with water-related disease risk in coastal human populations and ill health in downstream ocean ecosystems, and then reducing those risks through integrated watershed management through targeted actions operating at different scales.

Through collaboration with Fiji Government and 29 communities across 5 watersheds, the WISH Fiji team implemented over 150 types of management interventions, principally related to improvements in water systems, integrated planning, land use management and waste management. These interventions have contributed to cleaner water for over 5,000 rural Fijians. 

Results and lessons learned from the WISH Fiji project have been showcased at a national two-day workshop, highlighting successes against national development targets achieved through multi-sectoral collaboration.

Dr. Aaron Jenkins, Senior Research Fellow in Planetary Health from the University of Sydney and Edith Cowan University said that watershed condition affects the health and well-being of people and downstream ecosystems. Studies indicate that there is a higher incidence of water-related diseases like leptospirosis and typhoid within watersheds with high amounts of cleared land and higher densities of livestock accessing waterways. Studies also show that some of these same land-based activities around watersheds contribute to increased sediments and nutrients entering waterways which can have devastating impacts on freshwater and coastal coral reef ecosystems on which people depend on for food, livelihoods, and cultural practice. 

“WISH Fiji was designed to reduce risks to people from Fiji’s three plagues (leptospirosis, typhoid, and dengue), as well as other diarrheal diseases (collectively ‘LTDDs’), by improving overall systems health, which provides co-benefits for downstream ecosystems,” said Dr. Jenkins. 

WISH Fiji Project Manager, Timoci Naivalulevu from Fiji National University added, “In addition to reducing the risk of water-related disease, we focused on enabling communities to realise their fundamental right to clean water, while strengthening peoples’ connection to their lands and sea. To do this, we worked with a large number of partners across multiple sectors including the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of i-Taukei Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Fisheries and Forests, Ministry of Environment and Waterways, Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Water Authority of Fiji.”

WISH Fiji was implemented by University of Sydney, Edith Cowan University, Fiji National University and the Wildlife Conservation Society and was funded by the Australian Government’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative.