Palau addresses environmental health issues one household at a time

Environmental health encompasses everything about our lives as human beings, from the air we breath to the water we drink, and from the food we eat to the cleanliness of our surroundings. It is not just the domain of government agencies rather it is the responsibility of every individual person and household.

The Division of Environmental Health (DEH) in Palau, with the support of the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Scaling Up Pacific Adaptation (GCCA+ SUPA) project, is adopting a specific and personal approach to addressing some environmental health issues, particularly those being negatively impacted by climate change.

During July and August 2021, a team from DEH visited 264 households in the states of Aimeliik, Ngatpang, and Ngeremlengui in Palau to identify and help families address their risks to vector borne diseases. Vectors include animals and insects that can transmit diseases to humans, for example, rats can transmit leptospirosis and mosquitoes can transmit malaria and dengue fever.

Preparing education and awareness materials

“The team visited each household and assessed the hygienic and sanitary conditions.  Together with members of the household they did a walk-around of the yard identifying and removing debris and stagnant water that could provide potential breeding sites for mosquitoes,” said Calvin Johanes, Chief, Division of Environmental health of Palau. 

“Depending on the condition of the yard, on-site training and education was provided to the householders.  Brochures and educational materials were distributed, for instance. guidance on the design and construction of a simple cesspool,” he added.

The following major risks to environmental health were observed:

  • Solid waste such as abandoned old cars, boats, washing machines, stoves, and tires.
  • Liquid waste including stagnant water from plumbing leaks, inadequate drainage and sewage systems. (Stagnant water provides mosquito breeding sites).
  • Sanitary waste from outside latrines and poorly maintained sewage systems.
  • Yard waste such as branches, uncut grass, general litter. This was the most prevalent risk observed.

The household education campaign was found to be an effective tool to understand the physical and financial needs of the families. It also provided a comfortable and flexible space for families to voice their needs and challenges.

The household assessment and education campaign are part of a much larger intervention under the GCCA+ SUPA project which will also see townhall meetings, expansion of a water quality monitoring and training programme for households, and a vector-borne disease prevention and control programme.