Can we not act sooner on problems?

Monday October 08, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
Can we not act sooner on problems?

Dear Editor,

It would seem that here in the Cook Islands we have to wait until problems reach critical proportions before we are finally motivated to do something about them with the risk of being punished for our tardiness, losing opportunities, or spending too much.


I am sure there are plenty of other examples out there, but the two most compelling in my view would have to be our lagoons and wastewater treatment and that perennial - drought conditions and water shortage.

The new economic powerhouse of the Cook Islands, tourism, is overwhelmingly evident. Our dependency upon it is almost total. We have abandoned the fields and agricultural pursuits. Government has encouraged this by becoming actively engaged in dismantling past gains in the pork and poultry sectors meanwhile talking up import substitution and practising the opposite.

The need for urgent attention to the deteriorating state of our lagoons, with particular emphasis on Muri, and the wastewater contribution to this was first recognised by a group of us in Muri back in the 1990s.

Some American consultants then engaged here to advise on landfills were able to get their brief extended to address these concerns.  I have written about this before. A scheme was professionally devised for the collection, treatment and disposal of all waste from Parengaru to Matavera. 

Estimated cost in 1995 dollars was $4.3 million.  Today an island-wide scheme is touted by Minister Mark Brown as being up to $200 million. No figures that I am aware of have so far been released for a staging of such a project with Muri obviously first in line, but I would bet the Muri component will be vastly more than the original estimate even allowing for inflation.  This is just one example of the price we pay for indecision.

That same reluctance to think outside the box attends upon our water situation. Forget the fact that Te Mato Vai is not going to deliver the potable water originally promised; that it is hopelessly behind schedule; that it is going to cost a great deal more than first thought and that if there is no rain there will be no water to run through those super duper joint suspect HDPE pipes anyway.

Then consider that as the world's climate is being turned upside down and protracted droughts are becoming more frequent and a real worry, and how ephemeral our hand wringing despair the moment we get some rain and temporary relief and measures we should be adopting are once again postponed because our toilet is now flushing again and we no longer are buying water which comes out of the ground and is rightfully ours.

Then ask yourself, when is an enlightened administration going to stop telling us that the ground water potential is being investigated (for some years now) yet nothing is ever done.  How many people, residents, tourists, businesses have suffered because government cannot do what private contractors have done, and relish, namely tap into the aquifer and fill the pipes from there. One of the consultants recently told me there was evidence of abundant water beneath us so why does Te Mato Vai hierarchy not allocate some of its budget to tapping into this source so in times of shortage, or low pressure, it could feed into the system? 

It would be revealing for Te Mato Vai people to be telling us just how much storage is being built into its scheme and how many days that would last if there were no rain.

Stop and think for a moment. If there is no rain, no storage or insufficient, what would be the consequences.  Hotels, restaurants, bars, businesses, hospitals, primary industry, private resident tourist properties cannot function without water.  They would have to close. Market recovery is not just a case of advertising that you are open again.  It is not as simple as that.  Airlines would have locked into other routes. They would not have continued services on meagre loadings. Banks would foreclose. There would be bankruptcies. More migration, joblessness, crime - all because there was no water, no planning, no proactiveness.  Too far-fetched? Wouldn't happen? Who in their right mind would want to test it if we were sitting on the answer?

            John M Scott

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