Interview: Raka Taviri
PNG Water has the task of reaching 15 districts and two towns in the next five years. What does this mean for the firm and how will you fund it?
RAKA TAVIRI: Bringing a water system to a district, which includes both production and delivery of water supply, costs between PGK5m ($2m) and PGK10m ($4.1m) in PNG, depending on the location and the size of the population. If you multiply this for the rest of the country, adding the costs of maintenance of the existing system, clearly we are talking about a substantial investment. In the past, donor agencies have contributed to assure access to fresh water and sanitation in PNG, and although these partnerships continue, we are lobbying the national government for a stronger commitment to the sector.
For the past three years we have been receiving direct funding, which shows the level of interest by the present administration, but nothing has been allocated for 2014 yet, despite having been considered for the mid-year budget review. Not only is water a basic human right, it is key to achieving greater socio-economic development in PNG, as it has a direct impact on people’s health and productivity. As we all know, plenty of diseases are transmitted via water, from common dysentery to typhoid, and unless we strictly monitor water operators, the situation is bound to worsen in the future. Less than one-third of our population has access to clean water, so there is plenty of room for progress in the delivery of water and sanitation services in PNG.
What legislation can help streamline the sector?
TAVIRI: The Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM) and the Department of Health (DoH) are currently working on a new national policy. Personally I would like to see the implementation of a water policy that covers the full spectrum of the industry, from power generation to drinking water and irrigation. We are also in the process of corporatising Water PNG, like other state-owned entities under the Independent Public Business Corporation. We are in favour of this transformation, as it will streamline our operations. Of all the districts that Water PNG operates, only four are profitable, while the rest are basically community services, as the majority are located in rural areas, with a low customer base and high costs of operations.
How serious is Port Moresby’s water crisis?
TAVIRI: According to the National Weather Service, the El Niño draught will continue till the end of 2014 or even longer, and the situation is becoming alarming. The level at Sirinumu Dam, Port Moresby’s main water source, has been decreasing steadily, and important decisions need to be made for its long term sustainability. While Water PNG currently operates and manages reticulated water supply and sewage systems in 19 major provincial towns and districts, water services in the National Capital District have been privatised and are now supplied by Eda Ranu.
At this point I would advise that we start looking at alternative generation solutions, because the moment Sirinumu reaches 25% of capacity, the city’s distribution will be severed. Considering that the city has a population of nearly 700,000 residents, one can imagine the consequences of such a scenario. That is why we have expressed the desire to acquire rights to water sources and convergence of the Laloki and Brown rivers as a backup for the National Capital District, the population of which is bound to expand in the near future. I also see the importance of improving awareness among citizens about the importance of water, which is often taken for granted, especially in the cities. There is no lack of water in this country, but waste continues to be the real problem. There have been talks in the past about supplying water to our drier neighbour in the south, but until we solve our domestic problems, I do not think this will be a realistic option even though PNG boasts five times the hydro resources of Australia.
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