Hidden Pacific: How a community responded to severe drought in the Solomon Islands

By Kirsty Johnston, Mike Scott

The Herald and World Vision 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. Each day we'll be reporting on a particular problem for the region and showcasing how World Vision has helped. Today, the battle for clean water.

First the crops died. The potato and cassava and taro withered away in the dusty earth, leaving little but their stunted roots behind.

Next the rainwater tanks dried up. By the end of 2015, the people of Rarata village, in the eastern Malaita province, were walking up to 7km every day to quench their thirst, carrying whatever buckets or containers they could find.

And then the children 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."

Across the Pacific families and villages were facing the same challenges. A prolonged dry season, the result of an extreme El Nino event, had run even traditional water sources dry.

In Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Vanuatu it was particularly bad, with wholesale crop death and illness caused by poor quality water.

In the Solomons, water was rationed. Schools and health centres were closed, but for most it was too late.

Read more: Hidden Pacific: Q&A

"The children were so thirsty," says Annie. "They drank from puddles on the ground, where the insects had died. That's why they got sick."

Annie sits in Rarata's meeting "hall", an open-air shelter with long tables and a thatched roof. Next to her are four other mothers, most with babies, who nod as she describes the stress they went through having to walk for water each day.

"It's too hard for us to go for the long walk for the water when it's dry season. It's not really good for us," she says.

Eventually, in mid-2016, the drought eased. But the ongoing effects on the crop failures are still being felt.

In response, the community decided to work on a dam, to prevent a repeat event.

Annie says they asked the Government for support. When none came, they turned to World Vision, who run several other programmes in the area.

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

The charity helped provide concrete and plans and on a Wednesday last December, the village gathered to walk half an hour through dense bush to a spring, to build the dam.

"All the kids, all the women, all the men, they helped carry the cement," Annie says.

They also put in a pipe, so now, just 10 minutes from the village, there is a tap with running water, which the villagers show off - ignoring the 30C heat and humidity as they cut a path deeper into the jungle to lead us to the water source.

A clear stream pools above a concrete wall and water pours from a pipe. The children run their hands under the water, and everyone takes a drink.

"We waited long years for this," Annie says. "It's been years - our grannies needed the water for long years."

Ideally, says Annie, the villagers would have plumbing to each house - like in the island's capital, Auki, or in Melbourne, where Annie used to live.

"In Auki they have electrics, they give it to the house like the white guy. It's good. But here we want like that," she says. "We want the water to come in like the other countries."

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- NZ Herald

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