Walking more than a kilometre through the rugged terrain to fetch drinking water was a norm for the residents of Naravuka Settlement in the province of Macuata in Vanua Levu.
In fact, this has been the case since 1993, when the first settlers arrived at the outskirts of Labasa, just outside of Tabia village.
Life was hard but they have been enduring it in search for a better home and opportunities for their families.
After 17 years, the little community that now has a population of 73, finally have access to running water after the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Fiji saw the need to provide this essential survival need through their Vakarau Wai Fiji Pro Resilience Project implemented in 2018
Lekima Qaliso, now 71, was the first to arrive with his family.
They chose the area because it was near a river – depending solely on it for their livelihood and survival. The river was their life.
“We utilised the river for bathing, cooking and washing and at times when it was hard to walk up to the water source with our buckets to fetch drinking water, we usually resorted to boiling the river water to drink.” Mr Qaliso said.
“We’ve waited for years for help to arrive. Although we didn’t get it, we continued with life and we had gotten used to it. My children were brought up in this area and it is our home.”
Through the assistance provided by Adventists Development & Relief Agency (ADRA) Fiji’s Vakarau Wai Fiji Pro Resilience Project, a 10,000-litre water tank was set up and is now used as their reservoir to store water from the source and supplying it to various homes.
The assistance is in line with the overall objective of the project to improve resilience and adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities in drought-prone areas.
The need to assist in these areas was identified when one of our field officers in the North drove past the area and saw a mother and a baby coming out from bathing in the river.
Upon enquiring, the plight of the people living in the area was known and action was made to get the much-needed assistance in the area.
“Vulnerable people in our communities are often forgotten because they don’t have access to any information. Sometimes we tend to assume that people are alright without knowing what they go through daily,” Labasa field officer Akanisi Ranadinivugalei said.
From the family of four that first settled in Naravuka 17 years ago, the number has increased to eight households.
“Following our survey, we found out that one of the reasons why people are reluctant to move here is because of the water problem. But since the instalment of the reservoir, the number of homes has increased by three and we have been told there are four more houses that are about to be built again in the area,” Ms Ranadinivugalei said.
The Vakarau Wai project also focuses on improving resilience and adaptive capacities of subsistence farmers in drought-prone areas to reduce food and nutrition insecurity.
It has currently being piloted in Ba and Macuata with a total of 150 communities involved.
A total of 10,000 Fijians are benefiting from this project including 5,000 women as it encourages women empowerment through participation in agricultural activities such as home gardening.
Funded by the European Union and implemented by ADRA Germany through ADRA Fiji, the project encompasses three main components and that is resilience, nutrition and agriculture.
ADRA Fiji also distributed agricultural kits as well as relevant infrastructure to strengthen the resilience of subsistent farmers and at the same introducing new agricultural methods not only to sustain their livelihood but also to ensure they are ready in time of disaster.
With 2 acres of land, Mr Qaliso was also assisted with sylon shade, seeds, farming tools and irrigation system including water pump to help sustain his family of eight.
With the help of his sons, he plants vegetables and root crops.
“We have been farming since we moved here, but we are doing better this time around because of the proper tools we have been given,” Mr Qaliso said.
EU ambassador Sujiro Seam, while touring their funded projects last week, said it was great seeing that the funds they gave out was utilised well and the onus was on the recipients to continue, diversify and value add to what they have learnt.
And Mr Qaliso is already achieving that.
His Naravuka home has been frequently visited by the people to buy vegetables.
There is no need for him to go and sell in the market as people are coming to get it fresh from his roadside home.
Meanwhile, the intervention through the project adequately addresses the needs of the communities,
in terms of the right incentives with gender equity, and building a partnership by bridging the information gap.
It also identifies climate change and natural disasters as significant challenges to the country and the economy.
And because of this, it is a serious risk for the subsistence farmers and their families in Fiji.
The severe water shortage, coupled with crop failure causes economic hardship to a large sector of the population as it increases poverty and vulnerability while it has negative environmental consequences.
Because of this, the poor are often the most vulnerable.
However, with the project, people are now more resilient because they are better equipped not only with the information, but also with knowledge and tools to prepare themselves.