11 September 2013

Mother of all challenges: Clean water on top of Tanna's steep volcanic mountains

By Karen Allen, UNICEF Pacific Representative

Side by side pumps in action
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen
I have seen a lot of challenges during my 35 year career in Africa and Asia…but this was a new one for me: how to bring clean water to communities that live on top of steep volcanic mountains, in extremely dense, humid vegetation, but with near constant spewing of volcanic ash from an active volcano.
 The coastal settlements also live with seasonal risk of cyclones and tsunami. Talk about Disaster Risk! There is an extreme contrast between the moon-like area around the volcano and the lushly green village settlements where coffee is the main cash crop. The life of the women was dictated by a constant struggle to fetch water by a difficult climb from the bottom of steep ravines. One woman went into labour and died on the hike. UNICEF Pacific is lucky to work with UNICEF New Zealand, who helped a Kiwi engineer named Adam Pearse and a village innovator named Iahlu George, modify a hydraulic ram pump for the challenging terrain. As UNICEF New Zealand says, "Adam’s water pump uses the kinetic energy of a stream to pump a small percentage of the flow up the pipe to the village, requiring no fuel."  UNICEF New Zealand has raised funds to bring these pumps to many more communities in Vanuatu and UNICEF Pacific will make sure every story is as successful as the story in George's village.

George's notebook planning an installation
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen
Their combined success has changed the lives of the women, but also the men and children. Sanitation and hygiene has improved, health has improved, and the women now have time to work on cash crops such as coffee. The village basks in their celebrity status, and laid on a nice welcome for us. After my speech of thanks and commendation, translated by Hilson from UNICEF Vanuatu, one elder casually mentioned, "Yes, the President has been here and praised us, too." George complains that there is so much demand for his services that he hardly has time to rest. A UNICEF Vanuatu staff member translates for me: "I have trained others, but I am the only one who can work out the right site, and how to lay the pipes, each village is different and requires a different solution." He shows me his notebook, with sketches and notes for different sites. He has a sixth grade education. George and his wife show me the bath house, the toilets, and of course, the water tank. George's wife, Madelyn, who completed one year of nurses training, raises her family of four children and farms. UNICEF trained her as a community led total sanitation champion and trainer because clean water is not enough: we want to see every household with an improved latrine, no open defecation, and frequent hand washing.

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