Rarotonga’s action man, George Maggie Angene believes it’s time people began to think wisely about the water systems on the island.
With about 48 water stations on Rarotonga, located at various centres around the island including schools, religious buildings, hostels and sporting clubs, a number of families fill their large reusable water bottles on a daily basis for cooking and drinking.
If you get your water supplies from any of these water station, use only the stations that have blue labels on them: this means that the Ministry of Health has tested the water at the stations around the island, labelled them showing whether it is safe to drink.
Stations marked with red labels show that the water is contaminated and not suitable for drinking.
One of the safe water stations is located at Tupapa, where Angene can often be found sitting around chatting to young people who fill their water bottles, or who use the water blaster located beside the station for cleaning their bikes or cars.
Maggie believes these water stations serve a purpose: to ensure that there is clean drinking water for the people. But he agrees with the Ministry of Health that the water stations, well-intentioned as they are, won’t address all the problems with Rarotonga’s dirty water.
“My believe and understanding is that the World Health Organisation has checked the water stations and just noticed some bacteria that the ultra-violet treatment can’t take away.
“So now I can tell you that I support the recommendations of the doctors for us to chlorinate our water. They are doctors, they know chlorine is good for our water, they are specialists,” he says.
Waving to passersby who recognise him for his activities in the Tupapa area, Maggie goes on to say: “I believe if we are sick we don’t run to the water or anybody else but to a doctor to a medical specialist. If the doctor approves this water, the government has to stand behind them. It’s not the government changing the water system, it’s the medical experts.
“I think hard people – we are not forcing anyone, this comes from medical specialists.”
t was on February 4, 2011, that the country’s first water station was established. Until then, people all used the normal tap water system.
“I like it when people come and use this water. It is filtered. We must understand that the water is very dirty and the main thing is to look after people’s health.”
Angene says he uses the water from this same station and the tap water is usually used for bathing and washing.
Further to the south, tourist couple Hugo Colonval and Johanna Morlock are filling their water bottles at the Muri water station.
The excited couple – he’s French, she’s German – have been on the island for a week. They say Rarotonga is a beautiful place and the have found nothing wrong with the drinking water provided.
They say they have been drinking water provided at the water station and do not believe in chlorinated water.
It’s important that people decided the best water system for themselves, Colonval says. “We love this island, its natural and we use the water stations for drinking water.”
Looking at the famous Vaima water company located at the Nikao backroad, many people prefer to get their water filled from here – they believe it is Cook Islands purest water. In the fine print, the label discloses that it contains 6.0 mg per litre of chloride, 8.4mg of sodium, 4.0 mg of calcium and 1.0 mg of magnesium.
Despite the panicked talk on social media about chlorine and chlorides, these infinitesimal amounts are nothing to be scared of. Many of the ingredients that are added to bottled water also occur naturally in tap water and in our daily diets.
Potassium chloride, for example, is a chemical compound that is often used as a supplement for potassium, which benefits heart health and aids normal muscular and digestive functions. Magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and calcium chloride are all inorganic salts.
According to Vaima’s labelling, their water is “naturally pure with no additives”. It is ultra-filtered and ultra-violet treated.
Mary Pakaoti, 53, who is here for Te Maeva Nui, believes those living in the Cook Islands must decide what they can do to ensure their health is safe with the current drinking water.
Pakaoti was raised in Rarotonga and only moved to Wellington, New Zealand, around 10 years ago. “Back then when we were growing up, we drank water from the tap, it never affected me and my five siblings, we were fine.
“Mum would always remind us to ensure we do boil our water if it rains, because that’s when we see that the water is a bit dirty.”
She says there is nothing wrong with drinking tap water.
“There is nothing wrong with feeling the warmth of home and experiencing the real culture, life food and drinking here, even water.”
Though New Zealand does have chlorinated water in some centres, she said it also made no difference to her.
Government is investing in upgrading the water systems through Te Mato Vai.
The Ministry of Health says this is to lift the standards of health care services in the Cook Islands, and they have worked with the World Health Organisation to finalise the National Drinking Water Standards.
Health says that over the past decade, tests of our drinking water sources in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua, while infrequent, have demonstrated faecal contamination of 12 water intakes and community/water stations on Rarotonga, as well as water tanks on some of the Pa Enua (Aitutaki and Mauke).
Because there has been no testing done on people treated with serious illnesses, there have been no water-borne bacterial or viral illnesses confirmed by the Ministry.
Secretary Health Dr Josephine Herman earlier stated: “We need to take heed of the experiences of other countries who have reported water-borne disease outbreaks such as New Zealand, Havelock North where 5,500 people became sick and four people died.
“We cannot be complacent nor remain naïve to the risks to the health of our people. Our people deserve the best, and the best is ensuring universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water.”
Water is a critical issue for many Pacific Islands.
For the Cook Islands, spread over two million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, climate change is occurring and the government is challenged with maintaining a good supply and storage of water. The challenge, they say, is to provide the whole nation with the basic human right of safe clean drinking water.