Palm Project

Uluveu produces freshwater from saltwater

Vanuatu Daily Post article on their website www.dailypost.vu - May 2015

By Len Garae

The Uluveu community in the Maskelynes Group of Islands of Malekula has once again written its own history, by also owning and operating its own RO Solar Desalination Water Production Plant (Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion), the first of its kind in the Pacific after successfully marketing its Palm project soap to New Zealand.

The pavilion, which is hurricane proof and constructed from concrete and steel, is powered by a 6kw solar power system. The desalination unit was built and designed in Opua, New Zealand, by Open Ocean and can produce 5700 litres of drinking water every 24 hours.

One of the pioneers behind the Palm Project Soap Jenny Balias explains, “This solar powered Desalination Water Production Plant not only produces ample drinking water in the drought season but also supplies the much needed power for Sangalai School.

“The plant also makes block ice which is sold to the local community and fishing boats. Profits pay the wages of the Plant’s manager and plumber, making the water production fully sustainable”.

She adds, “The plant also includes public showers and these, along with the Coconut Project soap, are used by the students for regular showers, thus preventing scabies and improving health and hygiene. Large washing tubs are also available at the pavilion to make clothes washing possible and more convenient.


“Nearby is the aid post clinic, and the water and washing facility is also available for nursing staff and patients.

“The water making unit has a diversion tap and this drinking water, tested by UNELCO, is 99.99% pure, decontaminated water”.

If seeing is believing then one has go there to know why there is a success story involving the women and men of Uluveu Island.

“The Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion is owned and operated by the community, and like the soap factory, its manager has to report to the Palm Project Governing Board and Council of Chiefs”, she says.

“The Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion has supplied emergency drought water to the Uluveu community and surrounding islands of Avokh, Sakao and Naraniam for the past 4 years.

“The Plant has been maintained by the local plumber/electrician with assistance from the designers in New Zealand by way of telecommunications when necessary. “If everything goes as planned, the Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion, with its potential to generate an income will, like the soap factory, become financially independent in the near future”.

When this plant was first proposed, many thought it would be too technologically advanced for this region’s local tradesmen to maintain. However, this notion has been disproved.

Like all machinery, it has required maintenance, however all equipment maintenance to date has been managed and new parts installed by the local plumber/electrician. Local ability to maintain this plant has exceeded all the expectations of the New Zealand designers, and this has gone a long way in demonstrating that RO Solar Desalination, whether the source is sea water, rivers or bore wells, is an extremely efficient and sustainable process of providing much needed, safe, clean drinking water to the remote islands of Vanuatu. The fact that this kind of water supply does not use fossil fuels makes it the most environmentally sustainable water supply system available, and with the price of solar panels decreasing, set up costs are dropping.

After nearly three years of operation, all data collected shows that the Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion is a success story. In addition, there were some unexpected benefits discovered along the way, for example, surplus power that could be used for the school and for other commercial ventures which have assisted the community in their quest for sustainable economic development.

The RO Solar Desalination machine and the accompanying facilities that make it possible for the island to collect and store approximately two hundred thousand litres of rain water have made Uluveu Islands water shortages a thing of the past.