In 2012 New Zealand Children’s Health & Education Trust (NZCHET) designed and installed an RO (reverse osmosis) Solar Desalination Plant on the island of Uluveu, South East Malakula. Designed to help increase sustainable access to safe clean water and reduce the need for people of the island to rely on unsafe bore well water in times of drought.
This project was discussed and initiated by the local community and Council of Chiefs, supported by NZCHET’s local partner Palm Project, following a significant drought in 2010.
Following the health improvements in hygiene, already accomplished by NZCHET through the development of local soap production, the Uluveu Nuwai Pavilion water maker is now running at full capacity, and can produce up to 2500ltrs every eight hours. The Pavilion has a communal shower block and clothes washing facility with the ability to store up to 12,000 litres of water for use on site.
At the request of the Council of Chiefs the Pavilion is located at Sangalai School where the children can now have regular showers with the locally produced Palm Project Soap.
The project also included the installation 12 new 6000 litre polyethylene tanks and the clean-up and upgrade of the 14 existing 6000ltr tanks all supplied with new secure plumbing and taps.
Including the upgraded and new tanks, the rainwater catchment capacity has quadrupled and along with the desalination plant now a sufficient reserve of clean safe water to meet the needs of the island community is guaranteed.
There are several achievements associated with the pavilion, some of which are beyond our initial objectives.
- Sufficient Water Supply: Due to the increased water production and reserve capacity, the many severe illnesses associated with dehydration can now be reduced. (NZCHET’s health officer has stated that 75% of the cases she has treated have been directly linked to dehydration.)
- Reduced/Eliminated dependence on fossil fuels: The Pavilion is completely operated by solar power, meaning that no fossil fuels are used in the operation of the facility. These fossil fuels are damaging to the environment, and expensive also difficult for the community to obtain.
- Income stream to ensure Sustainability of Project: The 30 x 190 watt solar panels at the pavilion have given the community an excess power supply. The community initiative has been to use the power to make block ice and run a freezer. Due to the excess and free power supply, the pavilion has been able to manage the sale of the block ice to locals, various visitors to the island and also fishing boats. This provides the pavilion with an income to be used for maintenance and repair of the equipment.
- Increased tourism: The pavilion also offers at a price, the chance for visiting small yachts to fill their water containers, take showers and do washing. People already stop at the island to snorkel the abundant reefs and buy soap. The added ability to resupply water and wash clothes will escalate the number of tourists that visit the island, boosting the local economy.
- Increased local skill set: The young men from the Uluveu Builders & Carvers Workshop also associated with Palm Project and NZCHET have gained much knowledge over the time of construction and installation. Despite initial reservations about the complexity, this installation, has proven very reliable and local tradesmen are easily able to maintain and operate the desalination unit and the pavilion in which is resides.
- Local Economic boost: By using where possible local materials and local skilled labour the island economy has had a financial injection of cash that has flowed throughout the local community.
Further developments on the Island:
The installation of the Desalination plant, Community Washing Pavilion and Water catchment systems have been followed by the design construction and installation of two prototype odourless composting toilets.
This addition was initiated by the community as a way of reducing contamination to the bore wells they have previously relied on for water in times of drought.
NZCHET have had the bore well water tested by Unelco and our concerns were confirmed, the bore wells are contaminated with human and animal faeces and several different bacteria. These cause infections to the skin, ears, eyes and nose, common especially in the children and elderly.
With 75% of the material used to construct these toilets being local and available to all families, NZCHET hopes this specific design of composting toilet will become more common on the island.
These toilets, designed by NZCHET have specific features such as using local worms to decompose the faecal matter and an exhaust vent to remove the odour, which ensure easy maintenance and a pleasant environment in and around these toilets. It is expected that a family of fifteen will be required to empty these toilets only once every six months.