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Co-design is impact: Aotearoa New Zealand Minister hears from communities owning their own development

30 March 2022

Today, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Nanaia Mahuta visited RISE’s Fiji demonstration site, Tamavua-i-Wai, to see how the program’s infrastructure aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the community by improving access to essential services.

RISE is working to transform the lives of more than 3,000 Fijians living in informal settlements by strengthening access to essential water and sanitation services, and creating a healthier environment.

On her first official visit to Fiji as Foreign Affairs Minister, more than 100 people from the community and the RISE team welcomed the Minister, and heard about New Zealand’s support for Fiji’s development.

‘RISE aligns with Aotearoa New Zealand’s focus on supporting the development of a strong, resilient and inclusive Fiji, where citizens have equal opportunities to achieve their full potential,’ a statement from the New Zealand High Commission in Suva, Fiji said.

‘The program is working to make a tangible difference to improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Fijian families and communities, through access to clean water and sanitation’.

RISE Fiji Coordinator Isoa Vakarewa explains to the Minister RISE’s vision to transform human and environmental health in informal settlements.

Improving water and sanitation for vulnerable communities in the region is one of the critical goals for RISE, and aligns with the development strategy for New Zealand. The New Zealand Government has committed NZ$3 million to RISE over three years, to fund civil works upgrades for six informal settlements participating in the research trial in Fiji.

Ms Mahuta sat down for a talanoa – an inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue – with representatives from these six settlements to hear about their experiences of co-designing infrastructure with RISE, in the context of creating climate-resilient communities.

One resident discussed that her community faces many challenges, such as sickness and disease because of the living conditions in her community. This includes poor drainage systems, mosquitoes, and animals roaming freely. Since working with the RISE program, she explained, the residents have a better understanding of ways to develop the community.

Another resident reflected on the ways her community has united with the aim of making conditions better. She said in informal settlements there are different people from different places with different mindsets. RISE’s co-design workshops made the program’s goals clearer, helping the community begin to work better with each other.

New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji Charlotte Darlow acknowledged the sometimes ‘untidy’ but necessary process of talking and making sure communities feel engaged, involved and own their own development in ambitious, complex programs like RISE.

The Minister encouraged free and frank discussions of residents’ experiences.

During a tour of the community, the RISE team highlighted soon-to-be-finished green technologies like nature-based, constructed wetland treatment systems and smart pressure sewers, along with improved drainage, pathways and flood controls.

Following COVID delays, water and sanitation upgrades will soon be complete at Tamavua-i-Wai. RISE Fiji has finished co-designing infrastructure with six settlements according to their unique needs, with construction set to begin in the first half of 2022.