Penrhyn to dry up in 14 days

Friday 8 January 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in National, Outer Islands


Penrhyn to dry up in 14 days
The northern group Island of Penrhyn. 18091333

An island government official said the northern group atoll is dealing with one of the worst water shortages in years, prompting Prime Minister Mark Brown's government to approve an emergency shipment of water and desalination equipment to the island.

Penrhyn is in the midst of severe water shortage that has forced island residents to ration water supplies while government coordinates a response to the crisis.

Puna Vano, the executive officer of Penrhyn Island government, said: “The situation in Penrhyn right now is this; as of Wednesday, we have only enough water for one week.”

“After that, we will have nothing left, there will be nothing more.”

Government yesterday responded to the crisis by approving an emergency shipment of water to the island, along with desalination equipment to provide relief from the drought conditions.

Cook Islands General Transport barge Taunga Nui is expected to leave for the island on Saturday carrying 200,000 litres of water and the desalination equipment.

Government workers are already on island to prepare for installation of the desalination plant as well as groundwater galleries on the villages of Omoka and Tetautua.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said: “There has not been any significant rain on Tongareva (Penrhyn) for the last six months, and no rain in sight for several months ahead. The situation is such that private and community tanks with any water at all, are sitting at approximately 10 per cent; others are dry. The situation in Tongareva represents the very real effects of climate change.”

According to Government, there’s an estimated 70,000 litres of water left on the island for the 250 residents, if there is no rainfall, and at a conservative allocation of 20-litres per person per day, Penrhyn will be out of water in 14 days.

Taio Shipping company vessel Grinna is on standby to transport an additional 60,000 litres of water if conditions do not improve in the coming weeks, Brown said. The emergency water supplies are suitable for cooking and washing, but must be boiled for drinking.

Penrhyn has seen little rainfall in the past year, with just over a metre of rainfall in 2020, Vano said.

“We have had very little rainfall for the last six months,” he said. “There is rain, but it’s not on the island, it’s happening in the ocean.”

“That’s the situation right now, and we are doing emergency rationing of our water.”

Vano said island residents are currently budgeting 20 litres per person, per day. “That’s for drinking, cooking and sanitation, meaning toilet and shower,” he said.

Water supplies are the lowest they have been in the past three years, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Tongareva Robert Tapaitau is currently on island, and offered thanks for the assistance.

“The spirit of the people here runs high and in times like this we come together as a community to support each other, look out for each other and share what little we have with each other,” he said.

The Cook Islands Meteorological Service is predicting a high chance of dry weather for the coming three months for the northern group and much of the southern group.

While Rarotonga and Mangaia are the exceptions, Rarotonga water authority To Tatou Vai is calling on residents to conserve water during the current dry spell, which has seen flows at nine out of Rarotonga’s 10 intakes on a decline since late last month.