LAST Saturday, Port Moresby residents grew thirsty and desperate for water as water taps ran dry – the result of a forced shutdown of the capital’s water supply so workers could work on a major leak.
There is water all around Port Moresby, of course, but the population is generally aware that much of the water is unclean and most likely to cause illness.
Mt Hagen city shut off its taps this week too when unthinking vandals poured oil into the main reservoir. Many people there will turn to the fast-flowing rivers and creeks which are abundant within the city precincts.
In many remote locations of Papua New Guinea, fresh water exists in great abundance but is not always easily accessible.
Many live on hills and mountain tops and must descend periodically to fetch water. People grow weary and often dig holes or trap water in other ways which gather bacteria and other undesirable microbes that are often harmful to health.
Coupled with ignorance of the basic health standards, far too many Papua New Guineans die each year from easily preventable waterborne diseases.
Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rainfalls on earth.
The mainland and islands are crisscrossed by rivers and fresh waterways.
Yet, in a land where water is so abundant, the majority of Papua New Guineans in rural settings lack access to clean water.
As a result, its youthful population is decimated by death as a result of waterborne diseases.
Reliable national statistics are unavailable presently but diarrhoea, typhoid, dysentry and, just recently, cholera take many lives unnecessarily each year.
This tragedy is preventable and it need not take multi-million-kina interventions.
Sharing knowledge and locally designed means of accessing clean water can halve the fatalities from waterborne diseases.
This is the challenge facing decision makers at all levels in PNG and throughout the developing world.
More than one in six people worldwide – 894 million in all – do not have access to safe fresh water. They live on less than the 20-50 litres of safe fresh water a day per person to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Statistics from around the world suggest that diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88% of deaths by diarrhoea are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
Today, 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
As suggested earlier, a very simple knowledge such as washing of hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by up to 47%.
The UN summit of 2000 sets the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 and mentioned access to water as an important third point. By 2014, world leaders wanted half the proportion of people to have access to safe drinking water.
Whatever the state of affairs in other parts of the world, PNG lags far behind in the fulfilment of this goal.
The UN recognised that this and the other seven goals, which focus on poverty, education and health, cannot be achieved without adequate and equitable access to resources, and the most fundamental of these are water and energy.
The Hague ministerial declaration of March 2000 adopted seven challenges as the basis for future action in this regard. These are:
*Meeting basic needs – for safe and sufficient water and sanitation;
*Securing food supply through the more effective use of water;
*Protecting ecosystems via sustainable water resource management;
*Sharing water resources;
*Managing risks – to provide security from a range of water-related hazards;
*Valuing water; and
*Governing water wisely – involving the public and the interests of all stakeholders.
As Monday was World Water Day, it is important for PNG to seriously consider its water resources, management of them and, especially, in how it can give its citizens clean and safe drinking water.