Editorial: Our hidden Pacific neighbours need help

Herald campaign aims to raise $100,000 for urgent need in Papua New Guinea village
The Pacific nation of the Papua New Guinea suffers from a range of issues related to poverty. Photo / Mike Scott
The Pacific nation of the Papua New Guinea suffers from a range of issues related to poverty. Photo / Mike Scott

Of all the things we take for granted in well governed countries the most important is clean water. We turn on the tap and drink it or wash with it without ever stopping to think how lucky we are.

On the extremely rare occasion that it fails us, as in Havelock North last year, we are outraged and demand to know what was responsible for the contamination and how it could happen.

How different it is for people living just a few thousand kilometres northwest of here, in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. In a village near Port Moresby, one water main serves 20,000 people.

It fails two or three times a week. In the Solomon Islands, where the past two El Nino years have caused a drought, people walk several kilometres a day to find water.

Water, of course, is necessary for washing, cleaning and flushing away human waste.

Without it sanitation is poor, disease is rife, effluent pollutes natural waterways and the sea, fishing and other food sources become unsafe, fresh piped water becomes harder to keep free of contaminants. It is a vicious cycle.

In partnership with World Vision, we want to do something to improve the lives of these near neighbours. Melanesia has the highest levels of poverty in the Pacific and has 80 per cent of the region's population.

Over the next three weeks the Herald will be carrying stories from these communities and video on our website and hoping to raise $100,000 for urgently needed water and sanitation projects in the Hanuabada village near Port Moresby.

It sounds like a modest sum but with it World Vision will be able to help the villagers establish rainwater collection and storage tanks, trial sanitation solutions such as new toilets and handwashing facilities, improve waste management and promote hygiene through education and training.

In the first of our "Hidden Pacific" series today, our reporters who visited PNG and the Solomons last month describe children swimming in water alongside soiled nappies, rubbish metres deep along shorelines. It is hard to keep children out of the water though the adults try.

The villagers of Hanuabada, built on stilts over the sea where it has survived for thousands of years, can no longer safely fish there. They have to go far offshore to find a healthy catch.

There are no water pipes from the solitary main to their homes. They tap into it with homemade connections that cause leaks. Many of the connections run through the polluted sea and contaminants get into their supply, causing sickness. In communities with little access to clean water, diseases like tuberculosis spread easily.

These are people who help each other as much as they can says World Vision's New Zealand chief executive, Chris Clarke. When a family's crop fails, or a child falls sick, the village rallies around to help them.

It is fair to ask what their own governments are doing for them and our report today alludes to tensions between the villages, descended from the indigenous people of Port Moresby, and the city's encroachment on areas they consider theirs.

World Vision is trying to bring local leaders and the Government together to resolve issues disrupting the villages supply of essential services.

But poverty on this scale so close to home demands a wider solution. Every contribution will help.

- NZ Herald

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