Is there a private sector solution for the atolls’ drought crisis?

2011-06-09T12:00:00Z

<p style="text-align: justify;">The regional and international media have been rife last week with news reports about the freshwater crisis in Tuvalu, Tokelau and even American Samoa.<!--more--></p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The freshwater supply in Tuvalu and Tokelau is down to just a couple of days, necessitating severe rationing. For instance in Tuvalu’s capital Funafuti, the 5000 residents get only two buckets of freshwater per family from water tanks located at strategic points. The situation in the smaller atolls like Nukulaelae could worsen.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The New Zealand responded rapidly to the situation, dispatching two desalination plants to be installed in Tuvalu to address the immediate freshwater crisis. A third plant is on its way, which may be installed at Nukulaelae. The US Coast Guard has also chipped in with logistic help.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Unfortunately, whatever little freshwater exists inland on the slender, flat atolls is often high in salinity because of erosion and even contaminated with wastewater runoff – as in the case of Betio in Kiribati – which in this instance has been spared of the dire situation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The only freshwater source for most of these atolls – and even larger islands, as in the case of American Samoa – is rain, which has been erratic in recent years, owing to changing climate patterns.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">So, can there be a more permanent, proactive solution to the dire freshwater situation in the atolls? Is there a role for the private sector?</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Sub-Saharan Africa has a much worse situation than the Pacific atolls. But the vast region, which has been plagued by a worsening freshwater crisis over the years, has experimenting with several techniques – some of which may be relevant to the Pacific.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">One example is the innovative “Winddrinker technology” that is being tried out with a good measure of success in the coastal areas of Somalia. The Winddrinker apparatus turns salt water into clean drinking water powered only by wind energy. It combines a windmill and a desalination pump efficiently.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">A prototype has already been producing 60,000 litres of healthy drinking water a day. Interestingly, the developers of the project have a commercial model for engaging with local businesspeople who can co-invest and run the plants in their communities.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Such a model is well worth considering for the Pacific atolls in association with governments and aid agencies. This is probably the right time to consider such innovative but sustainable technologies, which can be combined with a business model suitable for local businesspeople to start a micro utility service that can make a big difference to their communities.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">More on this project at: <span style="color: #0000ff;"><a href="http://www.akvo.org/rsr/project/187/"><span style="color: #0000ff;">www.akvo.org/rsr/project/187/</span></a></span></p>
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<p style="text-align: justify;">Photo / Globalpost.com</p>