Today, the Herald and World Vision are launching the Hidden Pacific Campaign. We want to raise $100,000 for the urgent water and sanitation needs in the Hanuabada village of Port Moresby, and World Vision wants your long-term support for ongoing work in the Pacific.

From a distance Hanuabada village looks like paradise. It once was. But close up, the squalor is overwhelming. Children swim in water next to floating soiled nappies. At the shoreline the rubbish has built up metres deep. The formerly pristine white sand beach is now black mud.

"There is going to be a big hygiene problem here and that worries me for the future," says Bele Wamoi, 28. "That worries me for the children, and for my child as well."

Bele, an architecture student, is pregnant with her first baby. As she speaks she rests her hand gently on her stomach. Behind her, the precarious wooden boardwalks laden with timber-framed houses stretch into the grey-green sea.

Hanuabada, a traditional town on stilts, has sat on the coast near Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby for thousands of years.

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Legend has it that the Motuans - the indigenous people of Port Moresby - were first attracted to this area for its exceptional fishing. They made the permanent move from the highlands to the coast. They evolved to become the only group in Papua New Guinea to build whole villages on stilts over the sea.

Now Hanuabada - which means Big Village - is under threat. Its 17,000-strong population is growing, at the same time as the village loses land to Port Moresby's sprawl.

Housing has encroached on valuable farmland and traditional hunting areas, leaving the village little choice but to grow further outwards over the ocean.

There are no building standards. Precarious walkways with large gaps and no handrails stretch past houses propped on tree trunks dug into stagnant mud below.

"The walkways are really bad," says Bele. "Usually the council they change the walkways every four years, usually when they step into office, but it has been quite a while now, and we repair them ourselves.

Read more: Hidden Pacific: Q&A

"We need to maintain them especially for children, and elderly people, and pregnant mothers. Sometimes the walkways fall because the poles get bad. I have seen people fall into the sea. Houses have fallen into the water during strong winds."

With a shortage of grazing areas, animals like pigs and wallabies are kept in cages perched over the water, for food. Dogs run freely in packs.

Their mess adds to the human waste which, without a reliable rubbish collection or adequate sewerage system, lands in the sea to form a toxic mix below.

"When I was growing up it didn't used to be as filthy as this," says Rarua Gamu, a local youth worker. "Over a 20-year period it's piled up: gross stuff that's making it very unhygienic."

The woeful sanitation has seen the re-emergence of diseases like cholera, which killed six Motuans in 2009.

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With children diving and swimming in water full of rubbish and human effluent it's not hard to see why.

"The adults don't go into the water but kids, they see it as fun," Gamu says. "They go and splash about, even when the adults tell them not to."

It's also no longer safe for villagers to fish at Hanuabada. Now they are forced to travel long distances offshore to source valuable healthy protein. Despite being expert fishers, catch is increasingly hard to find.

Infrastructure is failing badly; rubbish collections are infrequent, if they come at all; about 20,000 people in the village and surrounding area are serviced by just one water main and there are no formal connections to the village's homes.

The villagers are often forced to tap into that single main with their own makeshift pipes, causing leaks.

These homemade pipes often run under sea level where inorganic and human waste can enter the supply causing residents to get sick.

The water supply is unreliable. Two to three times a week it will fail, sometimes for days at a time.

Resident Moral Gull does some repair work on his home. Photo / Mike Scott
Resident Moral Gull does some repair work on his home. Photo / Mike Scott

But there is a strong sense of community. The village is divided into five clans, and leadership is elected to the Motu Koitabu Assembly, Hanuabada's local government.

As the capital's development has encroached on the village, Hanuabada's residents have stood their ground. In 2015 two local men were killed during a dispute with police. The residents responded with roadblocks that cut off the city's fuel supply for weeks.

As a result there appears to be an uneasy standoff between locals and government. World Vision is working to bring the village leadership and central government together to secure access to the services they need.

Because until the village has better access to clean water and sanitation services, Hanuabada will be vulnerable to disease and malnutrition.IF HANUABADA was an isolated case, it would be bad enough. It's not.

It's just one place in this remote corner of Melanesia where large numbers of people are vulnerable to the effects of extreme poverty.

On many Pacific islands poverty levels are worse than in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the Australian Government, about 2.7 million people, one-third of the region's population, do not have the income or subsistence production to meet their basic human needs.

Over the next three weeks, the Hidden Pacific campaign will call on Kiwis to join World Vision and the Herald in partnership with these at-risk communities in our own backyard. We want to raise $100,000 for urgent water and sanitation needs in Hanuabada, and want you to join World Vision long-term and support ongoing work in the Pacific.

Rubbish is 2m thick on the shores of Hanuabada. Photo / Mike Scott
Rubbish is 2m thick on the shores of Hanuabada. Photo / Mike Scott

In January and February, Herald journalists and World Vision ambassador Clarke Gayford travelled to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to report on the hardship suffered by those living hand-to-mouth in our backyard. We met local people who relied on fishing and farming; with limited access to healthcare and education; coping with significant levels of domestic and sexual violence; struggling to adapt to extreme weather and rising sea levels; but who were desperate to improve their lives.

Everywhere we went, access to a safe and reliable water supply was among the main concerns.

Papua New Guinea has the worst Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) status in the region, with sanitation-related malnutrition accounting for 28 per cent of deaths in children under 5.

Melanesia has the highest levels of poverty in the Pacific, and more than 80 per cent of the region's population. Many communities lack access to clean water. And as in Hanuabada, this can lead to malnutrition and the spread of disease.

DURING THE drought across the Pacific caused by the intense El Nino weather pattern in 2015 and 2016, water sources were left totally dry.

Families in Papua New Guinea's highlands had to survive on weevil-infested sweet potato after drought destroyed village gardens.

Villagers were forced to eat toxic mushrooms and clay after their crops failed, according to a report in the Guardian. Water sources became contaminated and spread disease.

The drought will have long-term economic and health impacts for affected communities: families had no choice but to cull their pigs and livestock after their feed dried up. Fish stocks disappeared from ponds.

In the Solomon Islands, people walked several kilometres a day find water. Schools shut and health centres closed as everyone focused on survival.

By the end of 2015, the people of Rarata Village, in the eastern Malaita province in the Solomons, began to get sick.

"Diarrhoea. Cough. Red Eye," says Annie Hamer, a mum of three, who was born and lives in Rarata. "The children didn't go to school. They just stayed at home. We feel very worried."

Annie Hamer sits by a pipe supplying water to the village of Rarata. Photo / Mike Scott
Annie Hamer sits by a pipe supplying water to the village of Rarata. Photo / Mike Scott

Limited access to clean water often goes hand-in-hand with poor health care and disease.

In Papua New Guinea, George Casper lives in one of the squatter settlements on the fringe of Port Moresby. He migrated to the capital 10 years ago. Since then his community has become cramped and overcrowded as rural people migrate looking for greater opportunity. It is a breeding ground for tuberculosis.

George's wife was killed by the disease four years ago. Now George has contracted it. Because he was highly contagious and the disease left him very weak, he was forced to leave his job.

"I was thinking I was going to die," he says.

And TB is not the only medical problem.

In Bogia, a remote community in Papua New Guinea, we met Daphne Nobet, who had to travel for a day to reach the rundown clinic. She was diagnosed with malaria. and when she gave birth to baby Michael he too contracted the disease.

The clinic has none of the new government-endorsed drug to treat malaria, despite months of back-logged orders. The staff had to treat Daphne with drugs that are increasingly useless as resistant strains spread.

"When I got the baby, they said you are sick and the baby too," says Daphne. "The baby get sick with the mother."

LIKE HANUABADA Lord Howe, a slum in muddy Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, lacks water and electricity. Every time it rains the houses fill with puddles of water. Esther Beata, watching her children play in the rubbish-filled water, says sometimes she struggles not to despair. "I feel ugly. Ugly and miserable but what can I do?"

With limited resources, the Solomons and Papua New Guinea both rely heavily on foreign aid. Many communities partner with aid agencies such as World Vision, rather than government to make changes.

Esther Sylvesta Beata watches her granddaughter Regina Aduwane get water from a well, while Edward Sele watches. Photo / Mike Scott
Esther Sylvesta Beata watches her granddaughter Regina Aduwane get water from a well, while Edward Sele watches. Photo / Mike Scott

In a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Port Moresby, where farmers have worked the land for three decades, villagers are left without food every dry season.

World Vision has provided new crops like corn that grow through the summer and helped create a community garden. Families learn about nutrition and cooking.

"The main idea behind the kitchen garden is for us to get the seeds for planting and the family to harvest and cook nutritious food for their families," says community leader Henri.

In rural Madang province there is limited access to healthcare. Many women give birth in the bush surrounding their villages.

World Vision works in remote communities to train "village birth attendants" to work with pregnant and new mothers.

"We work together to bring changes to our community," says Josephine, a village birth attendant for the Boroi community.

Esther hopes she might be able to help her grandchildren to a better future by partnering with World Vision to begin a fishing business. "We are intending to own a canoe as a family group and that's a means of income.

IT IS also the future that worries and drives Bele Wamoi in Hanuabada. We meet her in a house on stilts that sways back and forth as people move about. After a breakfast of bread and tinned tuna, she talks excitedly of her marriage last August.

George Casper lost his wife and job to TB - he might lose his home as well. Photo / Mike Scott
George Casper lost his wife and job to TB - he might lose his home as well. Photo / Mike Scott

Bele has one year of study left before qualifying as an architect. She has already been involved in projects in Port Moresby, the city that looms large over her family's way of life.

She understands the history and cultural value of Hanuabada and her mood shifts as she pats her stomach.

Her baby will be born into a world that feels unstable, and somehow isolated despite its proximity to a busy city.

"The society is changing. It is a village, but it is almost like we are living in a city now. We don't have land to do gardens. Not like the olden days when there were gardens there and men go out fishing all the time," she says.

"It is going to be difficult raising a child here."

ABOUT THE HANUABADA PROJECT

World Vision's project in the Hanuabada village will improve the health of almost 13,000 people by increasing access to safe drinking water, and improving hygiene and sanitation.

It's part of Papua New Guinea's first Water, Sanitation and Hygiene policy, which aims to achieve safe water for 95 per cent, and improved sanitation for 85 per cent of the population in urban centres by 2030.

The aims in Hanuabada include:

• Boosting the consistency and volume of safe water by providing rainwater collection tanks and water storage containers;
• Trialling options for improved sanitation, including building new toilets and handwashing facilities;
• Improving waste management:
• Promoting hygiene through education and training.