New water tanks for northern islands

Sunday April 15, 2012 Written by Published in Return to Pukapuka

Rainwater tastes the sweetest. When our family lived in Pukapuka from 1977 to 1981, my mother says, she “simply put buckets out and caught the rainwater off the hospital’s fibreglass roof.”

Our palm thatch roof never caught rainwater and we made do, although I can’t imagine fibreglass water being the healthiest. The new tin roofing on each house now means a safe rain catchment system.

Like those abroad, my mother is impressed with all the developments. “Brand new tin roofing on each house? Individual water tanks?” she asks in disbelief.

Back then no one had an individual water tank. Each village shared concrete water tanks, collectively pooling resources. During periods without rain, people went to the collectively shared spring-fed wells. Pukapuka is one of the few atolls with fresh ground water. The advent of flush toilets without an adequate sewage system, however, means contamination for the ground water. Now, the wells can only be used for the occasional shower or washing of clothes.

In the old days, conservation principles had to apply. People in Pukapuka made the rain catchment system work and valued its worth.

Romani Katoa recalls his teen years in Pukapuka saying, “We used to compete to see whom could take a bucket shower with the least amount of water.”

After Cyclone Percy in 2005, the New Zealand Aid Programme provided funds for all the northern group islands to receive new water tanks and colour steel roofing. This year, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning through its project manager Romani Design Ltd and RVK Contractors helped to finally implement the project, bringing new water tanks and colour steel roofing to Pukapuka, Nassau, Penryhn and Rakahanga.

Conservation still applies, but everyone’s happy to have a healthier water catchment system.

“We have been waiting for new tin roofing since Cyclone Percy in 2005,” says Walewaoa Teingoa. “We are very happy to have it.”

Cook Islanders in New Zealand and Australia keep informed about developments on the island and admire the work from afar. A woman from Nassau sees some photos online and sends me an email saying “Wow! Looks like a papaa house!”

No aid agency could have calculated one of the best parts of the new water system. The new tanks have a sophisticated cooling system, not an easy task when daily average temperatures exceed 30 degrees and tin roofs heat up.

When the tanks fill and the rains fall heavy, a drainage pipe at the top lets out the warm run-off. This means that you can have a warm shower in the cool rain. A warm shower is an unnecessary luxury in the northern group. Still, such unnecessary luxuries can be great fun. During the heavy rains, children in Pukapuka run from water tank to water tank soaping up in the warm shower run off.

“I am a rich woman,” says Mima Katoa. “I have four hot showers in my neighborhood,” she says, and then she laughs.

Clean water has done more for public health than technological advances in medicine. Unclean water systems cause malaria, dysentery and a host of other viral diseases. New tin roofing, pipes, gutter systems, first flush systems and water tanks change all that. Thanks to the New Zealand Aid Programme and Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning, the northern group now has new tin roofing, lots of sweet clean water and even, hot showers. In keeping with the communal nature of the atoll, the next phase of the project will be community water tanks.

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