People & Values
facts & figures

Water is their most important instrument: Women from the island nation Vanuatu in the South Pacific

The Magical Water Music from Vanuatu

Water plays a key role in the cultural life of the inhabitants of Vanuatu. In this remote island nation in the South Pacific, women have been using water as a percussion instrument for many generations. The inhabitants’ more than one thousand years of history are reflected in the women’s “magical water music.”

The music deals with the traditional way of life in Vanuatu, which focuses on water. The rhythms and sounds imitate the noise made by swimming fish and the pattering of raindrops. The songs have titles such as “The Sound of Thunder,” “Waterfall,” and “Waves That Beat Against the Reef.” A key element of this water music is the interplay between the performers’ bodies and the water. The women, who wear traditional dresses made of flowers and leaves, stand in the water, which reaches up to their waists. The women use their right hands to set the rhythm and their left hands to strike the surface of the water in time with the beat. The loud splashing, whirling, and spraying of the water creates an impressive soundscape. This ëtëtung (“water music” in the Vanuatuan language of Mwelap) is a treat not only for the ears but also for the eyes, thanks to the lovely way in which the women move through the water and seemingly become one with nature.

Originally ëtëtung was an expression of Vanuatuan culture. Today it is primarily a very popular tourist attraction. Since 2008, the Leweton Cultural Village, a local cultural organization, has presented daily live shows of the magical water music on the islands of Mere Lava and Gaua.

Clean Water More Widely Available

Substantial rise More and more people are gaining access to clean drinking water worldwide. Even in especially poor countries, the share of people with access to clean water rose from 51 to 69 percent.

Developing countries

Population in thousdans / percentage with access to water

Less developed countries

Population in thousands / percentage with access to water


Sigrid Lüber

»Everyone should contribute«


What were the key results of the United Nations Ocean Conference?

All of the conference participants demanded better resource management and waste prevention as well as a significant reduction of the use of plastic. In addition, they submitted more than 1,300 voluntary commitments to specific, measurable activities.


What will be the main challenge in the years ahead?

The biggest challenge is posed by time. Plastic is generally used only once but lasts for all eternity. As a result, the world’s oceans might contain more plastic than fish in 2050. That’s why immediate and rigorous action is needed with regard to plastic in particular.


How high do you think the chances of success are?

The conference could be a game changer, but only if concrete measures are taken and everyone contributes. Governments need to draw up clear action plans, private businesses have to implement mandatory reduction plans, and everyone can do their bit by producing less waste.

Sigrid Lüber

is the President of the non-governmental organization Oceancare. She was a special envoy at the first United Nations Ocean Conference, which was held in New York from June 5 to 9, 2017.


March is World Water Day, which was formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and accepted by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution passed on December 22, 1992

These Ethiopian children are supplied with freshwater from a newly built well.



Many people in Ethiopia do not have access to clean water and sanitary facilities. The Neven Subotic Foundation is helping to make sure that this will change over the long term

What must it feel like to drink clean water for the first time in one’s life? To drink water without having to fear that it will make one ill? And without having to walk six kilometers to a watering hole where animals also go to drink? The Neven Subotic Foundation gives people in Ethiopia this exhilarating feeling. It builds wells in the northern part of the country, especially at schools and in remote villages.

Around 50 million people in Ethiopia— half of the population— don’t have access to clean water. That’s as if half of the people in Germany would have to drink from rivers or lakes. But that’s only part of the problem. The other major issue is the lack of sanitary facilities. As a result, 90 percent of feces and waste end up in rivers from which people get the drinking water they need every day.

To address this problem, the foundation is also building toilets. Since 2012, it has built 113 wells (including 57 with adjacent toilets) in cooperation with a local organization. It’s a start. The foundation was created by Neven Subotic, a professional soccer player at Borussia Dortmund. He works together with a team of employees and volunteers to raise donations for the foundation. Building a well costs €10,500 and takes 15 months—from the search for a suitable location to the drilling of a hole and the installation of a pump. Subotic bears all of the administrative and travel costs.

Moreover, he and his team take advantage of every opportunity to pass on their water expertise to others. They invite adults and children to take part in water rallies. An example of such an interactive obstacle course can be found in the Westfalenpark in Dortmund. People who take part in the rally drill wells, pull buckets full of water out of a shaft, and carry 20-liter canisters. In this way, they learn what life is like if you can’t simply turn on the tap when you’re thirsty.

Africa’s water crisis

Rapid population growth is boosting water consumption
Extensive water pollution, insufficient infrastructure
Too little rain and rising temperatures
Too much water is used for agriculture
Bad government, corrupt water supply companies