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Water for Peace

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The Supurunda Water Supply Project in Papua New Guinea has been a successful example of how Rotary is advancing peace and providing clean water and sanitation.


In 2018, eight villages inhabited by five cultural groups agreed to put aside past conflicts so they could enjoy the benefits of a safe, clean water supply. The resulting water system is now a common and enduring thread that, no matter what else happens, will unite them and will be protected by them for everyone to enjoy into the future.

The project area is 30 km (about 19 miles) northwest of Goroka, in Daulo District, in the Eastern Highlands Province. With a total cost of US$62,969, the project was supported by a Rotary Foundation global grant of $24,011, along with funds from a number of Rotary districts and clubs in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The Rotary Club of Goroka managed the project, and Osivo Ombuano, then the club's secretary, led the effort. Ian Cameron of the Rotary Club of Mitchelton, Queensland, and Wes Nichols of the Rotary Club of Toowong, Queensland, served as project directors and mentored the project delivery team.

The system supplies clean water to 3,000 villagers in eight villages for the first time ever. The water comes from a spring and is delivered through a gravity-feed system that has few parts, which will make maintaining it relatively easy and inexpensive. Construction materials were purchased locally, and the villagers completed construction within six weeks. Over 7 km (4.3 miles) of pipe were trenched as part of the project, tanks were installed to store the water, and 52 communal taps now provide free-flowing water to clusters of houses, schools, churches, and health clinics.

The spring can supply 2.25 liters (.6 gallons) per second — that's up to 65 liters (17 gallons) per person per day. Water from the Asaro and Gota Rivers, although not fit to drink, supplements the water supply to irrigate crops, helping drive the community's economic development.

Before the project began, a memorandum of understanding was developed between the five tribal groups and the owner of the water supply source to share the water among the villages. This agreement was used as the basis for a policy document, which is registered with the local court and is enforceable by law.

A water, sanitation, and hygiene education program was rolled out prior to construction, with sessions for schoolchildren and other villagers. A briefing was held for the Supurunda Water Supply Committee, and this helped ensure that the program was implemented effectively for the entire population. The program will be repeated each year for schoolchildren.

Osivo and his skilled team of plumbers, carpenters, concreters, pipe layers, and other water supply installers trained the local workforce in installing and maintaining the water supply system.

Everyone — men, women, and children — was involved in the construction phase, which gave them all ownership of the project to ensure that the system will be protected and preserved.

Celebrating the success with a feast

Around 2,000 people came to celebrate the completion of the project in a groundbreaking opening ceremony, where all eight villages were represented by people in traditional dress.

Supurunda Water Supply Committee Chair, Pastor Monda Kombai, said the ceremony was the biggest celebration they'd held since independence in 1975.

The villagers supplied 13 pigs — an unusually large number — to be cooked in a mumu, a pit in the ground for roasting pork and vegetables. Along with other food, it was divided and presented to various parties in honor of their contributions to the project. As a comparison, only one pig was shared at the most recent celebration before this.

Pigs play an important role in Papua New Guinean culture, where they represent social values and are a status symbol.

"When we asked why so many pigs were offered up, we found out that, as well as for the celebration, the pigs were being used to settle past grievances," Nichols says. "Peace and conflict resolution was happening right there in front of us and all as a byproduct of supplying safe, clean water. This was an extremely serious and important part of the celebration."

The Supurunda Water Supply Committee will oversee the operation and maintenance of the system, and a monthly levy on households will raise funds for its maintenance.

"They are a very professional team and have everything in place to ensure the sustainability of the project," Nichols says.

Since the initial project was completed, the water supply system has been extended to the nearby village of Osomea. A 5,000-liter tank from an unsuccessful European Union project was relocated to Osomea to be used as a distribution tank for the village.

The Supurunda Water Supply Committee still meets, the education program continues, and the people's health is benefiting.

"This has been a spectacularly successful project," Nichols says. "It is providing water to communities who never imagined they would ever see clean, running water in their villages in their lifetime."

The Supurunda Water Supply Project and its forerunner, the Dudumia Project, are being used as templates for five more projects now in progress. Global grant applications for water supply systems in the villages of Benga, Kranget, Obura, Sausi, and Waripo are currently being assessed.

• This story has been adapted from the November 2020 issue of Rotary Down Under