“Waterways in Fiji: An Overview”

Honourable Speaker Honourable Prime Minister Honourable Leader of Opposition Honourable Members of Parliament   Introduction Madam Speaker, in keeping up with the changing global trends in the Water Sector, issues
08 Mar 2018 11:00
“Waterways in Fiji: An Overview”
Mahendra Reddy

Honourable Speaker

Honourable Prime Minister

Honourable Leader of Opposition

Honourable Members of Parliament


  1. Introduction

Madam Speaker, in keeping up with the changing global trends in the Water Sector, issues of climate change and taking into account other national policy reforms, our Hon Prime minister last year created a new ministry, Ministry of Waterways. Announcement of this was made during the 2017/18 budget address by our Hon Minister for Economy, Hon. Saiyad-Khaiyum along with financial appropriation.

Madam speaker, the Ministry is tasked to set out the future direction for the Waterways Sector in achieving sustainable development and management of the Nation’s water resources for economy-wide benefits and an increase in the availability of water supply and sanitation services. Madam Speaker, to achieve this, we are tasked to manage our Waterways. Waterways have implications for all water using key sectors of the economy, such as households, agriculture, energy, industry, livestock, mining, environment, tourism and fisheries.

Madam Speaker, the term “Waterways” refers to any rivers, creeks, streams, floodplains and estuaries which exists naturally as well as canals and drains which are constructed by humans. Manmade waterways are found in both urban and rural areas.

These are water bodies in the urban environment including natural features and those constructed as part of a drainage system. Open unlined drainage channels, closed pipes and concrete pipes are also included in Urban Waterways.

Madam Speaker, unsatisfactory development of the Water Sector has revolved around inadequate understanding and appreciation of the central role waterways play in key sectors of the economy, the vulnerability of the economy to climate variability (floods and drought), lack of clarity with regard to the institutional framework for water resources development and management, inadequate and inequitable provision of services, and insufficient financing.

Madam Speaker, through the Ministry of Waterways, the urgent actions on land degradation and water catchments, and the protection of marine, areas lakes, rivers and dams, and the surrounding environment provide important guidance for the implementation of comprehensive and prioritised water conservation and environmental protection measures. This strategic focus of the Ministry on the specific roles of the various sectors, through clearly defined roles and responsibilities will ensure fair play among the various actors and sectors.

Madam Speaker, the Waterways Ministry will endeavour to address cross-sectoral interests in water, watershed management and participatory integrated approaches in water resources planning, development and management. Furthermore, it will lay a foundation for the sustainable development of the country by the mitigation of any negative impact of downstream waterways at the same time, leveraging waterways support to downstream industries.

Madam Speaker, Water is a shared common resource fundamental to life and in sustaining the environment and plays a central role in the social and economic development of Fiji.  It touches all spheres of life including domestic, agriculture, livestock, fisheries, wildlife, industry, energy, recreation and other cultural and socio-economic activities.  Water is vital for sustainable socio-economic development as a strategic primary input playing a pivotal role in poverty alleviation through enhancing food security, domestic hygienic security, hydropower, industrial development, mining, navigation, and the environment for sustenance of ecosystems.

The availability of adequate water supply of good quality reduces time spent in fetching water, increases health standards, and ensures a favourable environment for increased children’s school attendance.  The use of contaminated water poses health risks to the population as evidenced by the prevalence of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, and cholera.

It is for this reason that SDG 6 of the 17 goals, clearly stipulates “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.  It is against this background that the Waterways Ministry will work closely with other Ministries and statutory bodies like the Water Authority of Fiji to ensure we provide maximum support to Fiji’s growth and development.

Madam Speaker, at both the local and global levels, sustainable growth calls for the protection of existing water resources and the development of new resources because they are vital inputs to the nation’s productive sectors.

Madam Speaker, as alluded to earlier on, households derive water from our waterways for their consumption, water resources in big and small rivers, the lakes and ground water are being exploited for agricultural production and development, renewable energy projects such as hydro-electricity projects are also linked to our waterways and so are small scale transportation systems among the rural and interior communities. Rural and interior community’s lifestyles are linked to waterways and some even derive their basic food from our waterways.

As with land, water is a public asset with access controlled by rights to use, both formal and customary rights.  Water supply, both quantity and quality, is influenced by the management of land.  Water resources management is also influenced by the range of legislation and regulations affecting land.

Madam Speaker, water availability is a function of variations in climate conditions. High temporal and spatial variability in rainfall has resulted in endemic drought in some parts of the country and occasional floods in other parts, and has far reaching consequences on water resources management.  High variability in flows in the rivers poses very difficult conditions for managing large agricultural production as well as other activities such as providing a steady stream of water to households. It has also disrupted hydroelectricity projects.

Madam speaker, you would also note, from time to time, unplanned settlements and human activities in rural areas which are contributing to significant environmental degradation, soil erosion, and pollution of streams, all of which impact on downstream and in-stream water users.

These settlements, both in rural and urban/peri-urban areas also create unplanned water demands that can have an impact on other users.  However, discourse on and attending to the deeper causes of these disruptions, the importance of protecting our waterways never took off…with the little concern that were generated during these periods of subsidization.

Neither Madam Speaker, do we have a comprehensive national Waterways Policy and a comprehensive legislation to address these issues. Madam Speaker, we intend to kick off this discourse on the 22nd of March, which is a UN dedicated World Water Day”, with the theme “Nature for Water”.


  1. Water Woes at the Global Level

Madam speaker, at the global level, the United Nations is arguing that we have a major crisis with regard to water shortages looming ahead of us against the backdrop of climate change.

In a 2018 report titled “Humanitarian Action for Children”, the UN notes that one in four of the world’s children will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040 as a result of climate change.

The report further notes that within two decades, 600 million children will be in regions enduring extreme water stress, with a great deal of competition for the available supply.

The poorest and most disadvantaged will suffer most thus further contributing to spatial inequality.

Madam Speaker, the African region in particular is under the major spot light of the UN. A 2017 UNICEF report titled; “Thirsting for a Future: Water and Children in a Changing Climate,  looked at the threats to children’s lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways in which climate change will intensify these risks. The report notes that where demand is extremely high then water stress will increase. The report further states that drought conditions and conflict are driving deadly water scarcity in parts of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. UNICEF anticipates that more than 9 million people will be without safe drinking water this year in Ethiopia alone while nearly 1.4 million children face imminent risk of death from acute malnutrition in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

Noting the gravity of the water problem, South Africa’s wealthiest City, Cape Town City leaders have declared April 16 as “Day Zero”…this is when the city’s water supply will be turned off until the rains arrive, leaving residents to line up for water rations at one of 200 points across the city.

Madam Speaker, the City’s predicament is not only due to lack of adequate rainfall over the last three years, but also due to poor planning. While the City’s population since 1995 has grown by 79%, water storage only increased by 15%. Madam the Middle East region is also facing severe problems with their water sector with Iran facing a water crisis that is unparalleled in its modern history.

Madam Speaker, the impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable. We need to act now. So far, I don’t think we have heard any major discourse on the importance of our waterways and what we should do to protect it not only for the benefit of our current generation, but also so that future generations can also derive the same benefit. Madam Speaker, we have taken our waterways for granted.

Madam Speaker, we cannot continue in this manner.


  1. Establishment and Scope of Ministry of Waterways

Madam Speaker, given the above, the Ministry of Waterways was created to oversee all waterways related issues. In doing so, the new Ministry took over the Land & Water Resource Management Division, of the Ministry of Agriculture and the three Divisional Drainage Boards with a much larger mandate.

With this establishment of a fully-fledged Ministry, the scope has widened drastically, not only in terms of geographical coverage, but also in terms of activities and responsibilities.


Madam Speaker: The Ministry now:

  1. Will have a direct oversight of all waterways in Fiji;
  2. Will ensure large rivers and tributaries are maintained so that they do not pose any threat to communities, households and settlements from flooding. Work on this will include dredging of inland rivers, river widening and re-alignment and the construction of flood mitigation dams or detention ponds. Madam Speaker, River Dredging is by far the largest single flood mitigation project undertaken in the country.

It has proved to be a sound investment in disaster mitigation reducing the impact of flooding. Properly maintained rivers and drainage networks reduces the frequency and intensity of floods. Thus it reduces flood damages, brings more land under production and brings in investor confidence for potential development and economic activities.  The following major rivers have been dredged so far;

  1. Rewa River
  2. Navua River
  3. Nadi River
  4. Ba River
  5. Labasa/Qawa/Wailevu rivers
  6. Sigatoka 1st Phase


The following rivers will be dredged this year; Sigatoka river 2nd Phase dredging works and Penang river mouth dredging works.

  1. Will continue to maintain the designated irrigation schemes most of which are under rice.


These include:

  1. Navua Irrigation scheme
  2. Dreketi irrigation scheme
  3. Nasarawaqa irrigation scheme
  4. Korokadi irrigation scheme
  5. Droca irrigation scheme
  6. Naruwai irrigation scheme
  7. Vunivau Bua irrigation scheme
  8. Will continue to maintain the designated drainage schemes. There are 92 drainage schemes that were developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s to make unproductive land in coastal areas and waterlogged areas suitable for agricultural production.

The increase in the population and demand for fertile land and for sugarcane production pressured the farmers and authorities to issue land leases for cultivation on sloping lands for sugarcane production which increased soil erosion and siltation of waterways.

Fiji’s topography and landscape is such that a lot of good flat and productive lands are located along the coastal areas.

These areas are frequently subject to sea water intrusion and are prone to flooding as well. Seawalls, tidal gate structures and drainage system networks were developed to protect these areas and to sustain them for agricultural productive purposes. The operation and maintenance of these drainage schemes are being undertaken by the respective drainage boards. The boards are provided with operating as well as capital grant by government for the operations and maintenance of these drainage schemes. There are more than 4500 farmers and families being serviced with a potential farming area of 28,000 hectares.

  1. Municipal Council Boundary Drainage: A grant provision of $1,322,992.11 has been made for the financial year for the maintenance of drainage for Municipal Councils. These funds have been distributed to the respective councils to undertake the maintenance of drainage within the council boundary as per the signed grant agreements. This is just the beginning and we intend to re-access what additional amount they may need to deal with all issues they face and we will make a case during the 2018/19 budget submission.

Madam speaker, of the 11 Municipal Councils, some are making good progress while a large number of them have not utilised the grant to date. We intend to meet them to discuss where the bottle neck is so that we quickly address some of the urgent drainage issues in their boundary.

  1. We will work closely with FSC and provide financial assistance to deal with drainage of waterlogged farms. This year for the first time, we have provided $2m to the four mill areas.

We note the Cane Producers Association is also providing grants to farmers to assist in drainage provision for water logged farms on a 50/50 cost sharing basis.

Our PS has discussed with FCPA that the Sugar Ministry will pick up the farmers share so this will further inject additional funds to deal with water logged farms.

  1. We will assist in the provision of proper drainage in villages and settlements. Urgent ones with small expenditure outlays will be attended to over the next three months while major projects will be factored into the next budget. And,
  2. Will assist and protect coastal communities from the dangers of coastal erosion and salt water intrusion. This will require a major Fiji wide assessment which will be undertaken this year and external assistance will be sought.

Madam speaker, the Ministry will work closely with the Water Authority of Fiji to ensure Waterways are protected and maintained so that safe and uninterrupted drinking water is accessible to its reservoirs for its reticulation system.

Madam Speaker, the Ministry’s mandate covers urban and rural communities.

In its work to improve storm water management, mitigate flooding and improve irrigation, the Ministry will incorporate aspects of hydrological forecasting, drainage surveillance and realignment, waterways dredging and river embankment management.

Madam Speaker, there are settlements, schools, villages, agricultural farms and roads which are in danger of being swept away due to river bank erosion.

There are coastal communities whose villages are threatened by salt water intrusion as a result of sea level rise. We need to urgently take stock of these areas, undertake detailed engineering scoping of this and seek major external support to prevent any further loss.

Following this Parliament sitting, our Ministry will call for submissions from throughout Fiji wide and then map out a long term strategy to deal with these issues.

We cannot be reactive in nature to a problem which is increasing in scope, is quite widespread and is becoming a threat to our livelihood. We have to develop a comprehensive database and seek external support, not only financial but also technical human resources. This is no small a task.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Project

Madam Speaker: The Ministry of Waterways’ role is to lead Waterways Management in Fiji by coordinating across – government efforts to protect and manage water resources, including waterways for the of future Fiji as well. In this regard, Watershed Management and Water Resources Management are also included in the mandate of the Ministry of Waterways.

Madam Speaker, all water bodies (e.g. rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and estuaries) have a watershed. The watershed is the area of land that drains or sheds water into a specific receiving water body, such as dam, lake or a river.

As rainwater runs downhill in the watershed, it collects and transports sediment and other materials and deposits them into a receiving water body. So in simple terms, Watershed Management not only determines the volume of water in our Waterways, but also the quality of the water thus contributing to the very pertinent issue of flooding in downstream areas.

In this regard, our Ministry is also spearheading an IWRM Project which aims to create sustainable water security within the present constraints and to improve the conditions in the catchment basins.  This IWRM Project was implemented in the Nadi Watershed from 2009 to 2014.

Threats to our Waterways

Madam Speaker, our Government recognizes that climate change is happening now. While our climate is naturally variable, the warming trend and climate changes observed due to enhanced greenhouse effects are predicted to continue into the future and will affect our communities, industries and ecosystems as well as present challenges to managing our state resources.

Changes to our climate, including rainfall, temperature, sea level rise, evaporation and extreme weather events influence the water cycle, which is the primary driver of the hydrology of waterways.

The condition and the stability of waterways depend not only on their hydrology, but also on a complex and dynamic network of interaction between bacteria, algae, plants and animals with sediment rocks, surface water flow, ground water and chemicals. Climate change will affect these components, and the process and interaction that occur between them in a range of different ways.

We have to monitor how changes in the climate affect the hydrology of our Waterways and other water resources as well as human involvement which affects our waterways. Now, our challenge is to predict how climate will affect our waterways and their ecosystems in the future and to take into account land planning and our approach to managing and restoring waterways, in order to maximize their resilience.

Concluding Remarks

Madam Speaker we have some very challenging and exciting times ahead of us and we intend to engage some of the best and brightest minds in this technical area of Waterways, Hydrology and Water engineering to protect our waterways for future generations.

Madam Speaker, I am blessed to be appointed to head this Ministry at such a crucial stage of its establishment and I wish to assure you Madam Speaker that I will give all my best to deal with the above outlined issues going forward.

Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak.

Thank you, Vinaka and Dhanyavaad.



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