Responding to climate change to sustain community-managed water services in Vanuatu

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The aim of this research was to provide holistic, detailed, and integrated knowledge and guidance on the ways in which community-managed water services are affected by and sustained against climate change disturbances. Climate change poses one of the most significant challenges to the world with potential for far-reaching, detrimental impacts on water access in rural areas of developing countries. The water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector has yet to adequately and explicitly conceptualise the different ways that climate change affects water services and how water services are sustained against climate change disturbances. Without clear conceptualisations, actions taken to adapt water services to climate change run the risk of being ineffective, inefficient, inequitable, or environmentally unsustainable. This research filled the conceptualisation gap in the context of community-managed water services in a developing country setting using Vanuatu as a country of reference. To conduct this research, I followed tenets of transdisciplinarity and utilised a case study methodology in two rural sites in Vanuatu that included 70 participants from rural communities and local and central government. Methods included semi-structured interviews, technological and environmental surveys, observations, participatory workshops, and document analyses. I first drew on three bodies of climate change theory-practice to fill the conceptualisation gap: risk-hazard, vulnerability, and resilience. I demonstrated that using risk-hazard, vulnerability, and resilience lenses each make different, but valuable, contributions to conceptualising the biophysical, social, and social-ecological impacts of climate change on community-managed water services. I argued that the WASH sector currently favours a technocratic framing of the climate change problem and must consider the wider range of perspectives that I demonstrated. I then synthesised key concepts from risk-hazard, vulnerability, and resilience theories, such as those relating to risk management, agency, and human-environment feedbacks, into an integrated conceptual framework to emphasise their synergies and manage tensions between them. My proposed framework acts as a heuristic for assessing the capacity of community-managed water services to sustain water access against climate change disturbances. The framework sensitises WASH stakeholders to the different ways of regarding climate change impacts and facilitates interdisciplinary research. Lastly, I showed how my findings are useful in a real-world setting. I discussed how my proposed framework can be used to inform Government of Vanuatu strategic decision-making processes. I also considered how my framework can be used to evolve a Vanuatu-based NGO framework and I shared lessons learned from carrying out my analyses with other researchers in Vanuatu.
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