Aitutaki is the only outer island with septic tank pumping facilities.
Most households in the outer islands are forced to manually empty overfull septic tanks using shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows.
PED director Otheniel Tangianau says improving domestic water supplies in the outer islands in the last 10 years has resulted in the old fashioned “long drop” outside toilets being abandoned in favour of flush toilets inside homes.
In Mangaia, where many homes are built on hard makatea (coral), it is even more difficult for families to be able to have underground drainage or a soaking system to cope with overflow. Tangianau says emptying over-full septic tanks is also becoming a problem in Mauke.
But he downplays the urgency because the Mangaia Island Government hasn’t received any requests to empty domestic tanks.
However, a Mangaian businesswoman who asked not to be named says people usually won’t ask for help from local government because they know there isn’t any equipment.
“I feel so sorry for our people who have to do this manually, my friend has this problem and she doesn’t know what to do. Her kids are breathing in this really bad smell, and they can’t do anything about it. This is a health issue and this is the 21st century.”
Asked what PED plans to do about the problem, Tangianau says it has to be dealt with by the island government working together with those stakeholders with the technical capacity to help.
“Obviously this is a problem that has to be addressed as it would impact on people’s health, the environment and public perceptions about the island concerned.
“The island and its stakeholders will need to find a common solution suitable and relevant to the needs of the island concerned.
“As (it is) an emerging issue, the island government will need to plan and consult national government via Infrastructure Cook Islands and others to seek technical and financial support to help it address the problem.”
Tangaianau says the other issue is finding somewhere to dump the sludge and manage the waste.
It was suggested that a medium-sized septic pump tank and trailer would suit the outer islands’ needs, but Tangianau this will need to be confirmed by technical and feasibility assessments normally undertaken for these type of activities. He did not say when that will be done.
He says first there will need to be talks with the community, island governments and technical service providers to get an agreed outcome to be supported by funding arrangements for technical solutions.”