Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific

Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific



Volcanic island countries in the Pacific are facing severe issues related to environmental degradation and climate variability. Deforestation and unsustainable land and water use, uncontrolled livestock grazing on fragile lands and poorly planned settlements in environmental and hazard-sensitive areas are drivers of environmental degradation. Drought is a major natural hazard all Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are facing, with agricultural drought presenting a particular problem for the leeward side of larger volcanic islands.


Alongside land resources, the economic and social well-being of PICs are dependent upon the quality and quantity of their freshwater resources. However, the ability of small island countries to effectively develop and manage their water sectors is often constrained by their small size and limited human resource base. In many island countries, factors such as increasing demand for water, rainfall variability, storm water runoff, inadequate sanitation, and waste disposal, threaten economic development and human health.


Fresh groundwater resources in volcanic islands of the Pacific are particularly abundant, as demonstrated by the plethora of freshwater springs, private and public groundwater bores and of major water bottling industries, abstracting substantial volumes of fresh groundwater, particularly in the larger volcanic islands of Fiji. These volcanic aquifers, bearing good potential to meet the needs of domestic and agricultural water demands have barely been developed. On the contrary, groundwater development is concentrated along the more densely populated coastal areas, targeting highly vulnerable shallow coastal aquifers.


In December 2020, the GEF-7 project concept “Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific” was approved by the GEF Council for design by FAO (Implementing Agency) in collaboration with SPC (Executing Agency). The USD 6 million full-size regional project sits under the International Waters GEF focal area and will be implemented in Fiji, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands over a period of 5 years. A project preparation grant was administered by the GEF to assist with the project design aiming for submission of the complete project documentation by December 2021 to the GEF Secretariat for consideration.


The overall project objective is “to enhance water and food security and climate resilience, sustain ecosystem services, and relieve pressure on over-exploited coastal aquifers by expanding and assessing the role of volcanic aquifers and by introducing sound groundwater governance frameworks in selected volcanic island states of the Pacific.


A project framework was developed in 2020 for the purposes of submitting the Project Identification Form (PIF) to the GEF. The framework was developed through preliminary consultations between SPC, FAO, and the lead government agencies from the three project countries. The national project design workshop for Vanuatu, conducted on 29 June 2021, was an opportunity for the framework to be presented to a larger stakeholder audience and reviewed in terms of current national relevance, alignment with national strategies, and opportunities to address pressing issues which may have missed during the concept stage. The project components with associated Outcomes and expected activities are presented below:


Component 1. Expanding and assessing the role of groundwater resources.

Outcome 1.1 The knowledge of the exploitable groundwater resources is improved in the three project island states.

In many of the larger volcanic islands in the Pacific there are indications of the presence of large, exploitable groundwater resources at economically reachable depths and resilient to climate variability. Such indications include the presence of perennial springs and of mineral bottling industries producing significant volume of drinking water. It is proposed that the following main activities take place under this component during implementation:

  1. Reconnaissance aquifer mapping at the national scale to expand the knowledge on the current state of major aquifers ( up to 2 major islands per country).
  2. In-depth technical and economic feasibility studies for the identification of strategic use and development of volcanic aquifers.
  3. Facilitated dialogue between governments and public and private investors (e.g.: BOT schemes) on the exploitation of the most attractive “prospects” emerging from the feasibility assessments.


Component 2. Introducing sound groundwater governance frameworks.

Outcome 2.1. Sound groundwater governance frameworks and policies are adopted.

The main objective under this component is to facilitate the adoption of aquifer management plans following the recommendations and methodologies of the “Groundwater Governance Project” (GEF/FAO/World Bank/UNESCO/IAH), further supporting the implementation of key priority areas of the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) of the Pacific SIDS. Outputs under this component are expected to support governments with the drafting of water resources legislations and national groundwater exploitation policies. Main proposed activities would include:

  1. Development of the conceptual models of identified primary aquifers and diagnostic studies of their current state.
  2. Development of participatory future scenarios of water-food security management with local communities through a set of recommendations towards informed management of groundwater resources.
  3. Drafting of Aquifer Management Plans.


Component 3. Tackling hot spots.

Outcome 3.1. Groundwater is integrated into IWRM policies and practices.

The proposed activities under this component include targeted on-the-ground interventions necessary to achieve the proposed Outputs under Components 1 and 2 and other specific objectives under Component 3. To the extent possible and in consultation with the project countries, “hot spots” will be identified within the “primary aquifer” areas identified under Component 1. The intention is to address and potentially resolve priority issues of concern related to groundwater, including groundwater production infrastructure for agricultural and drinking water purposes. An additional objective will be to demonstrate on-the-ground ways to integrate groundwater governance principles and methodologies within the context of IWRM policies and practices. Main proposed activities include:

  1. The drilling of test holes and monitoring bores to support aquifer assessments and groundwater monitoring, respectively, to improve aquifer management and to address conflicts between industry, agriculture, domestic and environment users.
  2. The implementation of land use management measures (land contouring, fencing, land use mapping) to strengthen environmental and water resources sustainability and to address land degradation.
  3. The demonstration of small-scale groundwater development schemes to address water supply issues, enhance agricultural activities, and strengthen water and food security.
  4. The drafting of national operational plans to better coordinate the management and operation of drilling activities.


Component 4. Reinforcing institutional capacity.

Outcome 4.1. Enhanced national capacities in groundwater assessment, monitoring and management.

The main objective under this component is to enhance the institutional capacities in groundwater assessment, management, and monitoring in the three project countries. This will be achieved through:

  1. Participation of national staff from relevant ministries in groundwater investigations, reconnaissance surveys, and remotely sensed data analysis.
  2. Active participation of stakeholders in the development of Aquifer Management Plans and their application.
  3. Ad hoc trainings organized at regional level replicating previous successful training models (e.g. Melanesian drillers training) which also provided direct water security outcomes for communities in fragile areas.
  4. Knowledge exchanges at regional and global level (North-South and South-South Cooperation).
  5. Active participation in IW LEARN activities.


The project components are closely connected to regional and international agreements (Sendai framework, Sustainable Development Goals, Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific), and will strengthen, through an inclusive approach, the linkages between government and the community, and between previous and existing GEF-funded projects (IWRM, R2R, MCA). Further, the project components are consistent with a number of national goals and strategic targets identified in the “2016-2030 National Sustainable Development Plan” for Vanuatu. Recognising that water security is an issue relevant to multiple sectors and actors, the project will also focus on the development and strengthening of existing and new partnerships with government and non-government organisations at the local, national, and regional levels.


Project Sites: 

Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific

Latitude: -15.406287
Longitude: 167.710118

Project - Enhancing water-food security and climate resilience in volcanic island countries of the Pacific

Malekula- NorthWest 
Latitude: -16.037088
Longitude: 167.230049

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Project Information

Project Scope: 
Start Date: 
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
End Date: 
Wednesday, June 23, 2027
Implementing Countries: 
Implementing Agency: 

60 months


GEF ( Global Environment Facility )
Total Funding: