THE quality of water in Fiji is under the spotlight following surveys by international experts that show sanitation levels lagging behind countries on the African Continent.
Rotary Pacific Water chairman Warwick Pleass says water, sanitation and hygiene experts from the US were shaking their heads in disbelief at some of the tests they did a few weeks ago.
He said their tests showed that water quality in Fiji was actually worse than Uganda in Africa.
According to a 2013 United Nations study referenced by Mr Pleass, Pacific Island countries were equally worse or worst for sanitation and water.
"It's a scary statistic and not even close to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in the area of water even though the world has achieved it a couple of years in advance on average but we are not even close to achieving it," he said.
"So we are dragging the world average down."
In the context of the Pacific, he said, we are far from achieving the MDGs for water and sanitation.
The Water Authority of Fiji said they were investing millions of dollars to upgrade and improve water services to meet water quality standards.
"The authority is continuously working towards improving drinking water and sanitation coverage and quality improvements in the urban and rural sectors," it said.
For rural sectors, WAF said they were doing water quality monitoring and improving on the quality by installing an Ecological Purification System (EPS) that removed turbidity and reduces micro levels to safe levels.
"Hence, the authority is working towards achieving the MDG."
WAF said the expected water quality for all treated water in urban areas fell within the Fiji National Drinking Water Quality (NDWQ) standards.
"The research study must be considered separately for rural and urban sectors to be more precise for Fiji stats. For other Pacific Islands NWQL (National Water Quality Laboratory) will not be able to comment on this due to lack of data on the Pacific."
It said water quality monitoring was carried out as per the World Health Organization guideline/Fiji National Drinking Water Quality Standards for compliance monitoring.
The Health Ministry said quality of water would always be an issue, especially in the rural areas of the country where treatment was not part of the system.
"Please be reminded that only those systems within the WAF reticulated system are treated and these meet the national drinking water standards. As mentioned above any water not treated will always be considered unsafe.
"As for water quality, please remember that unless treated, water will always be termed as not safe for human consumption."
With the standards of E.coli and coliforms at 0 mg/l, the ministry said treatment was the only way that the standards could be adhered to.
"To ensure safe water is a tremendous task and will require the co-operation of many stakeholders and the policies and regulations to back it up."
The UNICEF report titled A Snapshot of Water and Sanitation in the Pacific, 2013 Sub-regional Analysis and Update, states sanitation coverage is at 87 per cent while water coverage was at 96 per cent in Fiji.
It said government had been putting together policies and regulations that still needed to be endorsed.
The ministry said Fiji has met the MDG and passed the 50 per cent mark for accessibility and safety as stated in the report.
In the report, it shows without counting Papua New Guinea, the Pacific is on track to meeting the MDGs.