Every year 2800 deaths in Pacific island countries result from diarrhoea, and most are children under five years of age. These tragic diarrheal deaths are preventable as they are often linked to unsafe water, lack of proper sanitation facilities and poor hygienic practices. Effective preventive management through the framework of a drinking Water Safety Plan (WSP) is an efficient mechanism for ensuring the safe quality of drinking water thereby reducing the burden of water related diseases. The large proportion (81%) of people in Pacific island countries living in rural or outer island communities mostly have their own water supply (for example rainwater tanks or hand-dug wells), and often the water is consumed untreated. The remoteness and isolation of these rural communities prevent national surveillance authorities to regularly visit and provide advice on drinking water safety issues. In such circumstances empowering rural communities to ensure the safety of their drinking water, through trained local facilitators, could be promoted and utilised effectively. However, WSPs for rural communities have to be relatively simple hence tools such as modified sanitary inspections and the presence/absence hydrogen sulfide test could be used. The approach of empowering communities through trained local facilitators to promote the WSP framework has been implemented in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). Positive feedback has been received by trained facilitators in RMI on the use of modified sanitary inspections (translated into Marshallese) and the hydrogen sulfide test. It is believed that the approach of empowering communities on WSPs through training local facilitators and equipping them with the above mentioned simple tools is effective and has potential for further replication in rural Pacific communities to improve drinking water quality and reduce the burden of water related diseases.
Keywords: hydrogen sulfide test, pacific Island countries, Republic of Marshall Islands, rural communities, sanitary inspections, Water Safety Plans