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Environment and health
Many water sources in Vanuatu are unprotected and affected by pollution, and in some cases contaminated by volcanic ash and gas emissions. Groundwater has traditionally been exploited by constructing hand-dug wells in low-lying or coastal areas that are subject to contamination and often contain water that is unsuitable for drinking. However, if the boreholes or wells from where groundwater is abstracted are located away from source of contamination, abstracted water is of very good quality. Surface water sources are subject to bacteriological and other contamination due to human activities or animals (Sullivan and Guglielmi, 2007; Esau., Ioan and Vuti, 1999).
Information on groundwater is sporadic and mostly focused on Port Vila and Luganville. Groundwater quality in both urban centres of Port Vila and Luganville is generally good with only calcium hardness to note. However, in both cases groundwater levels are decreasing while pumping demands are increasing The growth of population and the urbanization play a role in the environmental impacts (SOPAC, 2007; Sullivan and Guglielmi, 2007).
Most of Port Vila and Luganville lack sewage and wastewater treatment systems and waste is generally disposed of via illegal stormwater connections, direct discharge, or into poorly designed and maintained septic systems, which leach contaminants into adjacent coastal and freshwater systems. There are currently no regulations for wastewater management. The lack of water quality data means that there is a limited ability to develop solutions to this problem (DGMWR, 2008).
Saline intrusion to groundwater is also increasing in the country.
The Tagabe river catchment area is the only source of water to Port Vila and villages to the east. Port Vila’s residential districts have slowly been expanding into the catchment. This expansion heightens the risk of contaminating, the downstream areas being the most vulnerable to this contamination as they collect their water directly from the river or from shallow wells in highly permeable soil. Agricultural and livestock activities occurring within the catchment are also endangering the area’s water quality (SOPAC, 2007).
Scabies, skin diseases and malaria are water-related diseases and are the three most common health issues in Vanuatu. Poor drainage and waste management provide pools of water that are favourable breeding sites for malaria mosquito (SOPAC, 2007).