Oxfam's PNG Water Engineer reports from the field


Oxfam's water engineer in PNG, Pauline Komolong.

My name is Pauline Komolong and I am writing to you from Papua New Guinea where I am Oxfam’s water engineer.

I would like to tell you about our work with communities in the remote PNG Highlands, and about one community project in particular in Fane, where we constructed household water tanks.

The communities are located along the Owen Stanley ranges, which is one of the most rugged areas of PNG. The villages consist of little hamlets of small grass huts situated on the side of the mountain ridges.

With the polluted Auga Banga River which flows down past the hamlets about 5km from the Tolukuma Gold Mine, the vicinity of the community is often filled with the disgusting odour of cyanide during the dry seasons but during the wet seasons it is not so distinct.

There is no road link to that area so the standard of living is not very high and most people rely heavily on their gardens and the rivers, but due to the pollution the river can no longer provide protein for the people in that area.

The tanks were flown into the Fane Airstrip by a chartered plane from Port Moresby; the only transport option available.

Upon arriving at Fane airstrip I was met by the entire community of Hala who had travelled for miles over the gushing rivers and mountain ridges just to await their construction materials. They were so excited about the project.

Ala villagers carry materials three hours back to their village to build 12 water tanks. Photo: Pauline Komolong

They gathered all the materials, the women and children carried fittings in natural fibre woven bags which are often called bilums here in PNG, while the men and the youths carried galvanised roofing irons, polypipes, mesh wire and of course the tanks.

They carried the materials and travelled down the steep ridges and disappeared into the thick forests across the raging rivers at amazing speed while I kept falling over with buckled knees, too frightened I’d fall off the ridges. All too often I just crawled as I found it so hard to walk.

The young men that walked ahead arrived hours before me and started to prepare a feast. I was welcomed by a big group of the neighbouring village with a welcome song and dance, I felt like a guest of honour.

I enquired why they were doing all that, and almost everyone that I asked responded by saying that, the water which they heavily depended on has been polluted and they travel for hours just to fetch water to drink and cook and to them it was never imagined that they could be assisted as they had never had an outside intervention.

The kids looked dirty with sores and mothers had dirty hands which they often never washed when preparing meals leading to a lot of water born diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid.

Before the construction I held a day of health awareness which resulted in 100 per cent attendance and the neighbouring community also came. Some issues such as the importance of hand washing and food handling were new concepts to the community and that was quite amazing to me.

The construction process was slow as I did each step gradually which was then followed by the family members. The construction took three days to set up. One young man sticks in my mind, he was a quick learner and very skilled and went around and helped me during the construction.

The participation was excellent and there was so much enthusiasm in the community. There are still many neighbouring communities around Hala that need clean water, not only for cooking and drinking but also for bathing.

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