29 Jul 2013

New Zealand engineer helps solve water supply issues in Vanuatu

6:42 pm on 29 July 2013

A New Zealand engineer is helping villagers on Tanna Island in Vanuatu get better access to clean water.

Adam Pearse, working with UNICEF New Zealand, has developed a reliable system using traditional hydraulic Ram Pump technology.

He says he got involved after making friends with ni-Vanuatu seasonal horticulture workers in Hawkes Bay.

Mr Pearse says the workers wanted to improve water systems in their home villages. He'd been trying to buy systems in New Zealand when he decided to help out.

He says four and a half years ago he installed his first system made from plumbing parts.

ADAM PEARSE: But after our first experience of doing that, even though we found it worked well initially, long-term it wasn't lasting very well. So we went through about a two-year product development process of designing and trialling different ideas until we came up with the final system that we have now, that has proven to be reliable and is working well, especially in the tropical climates. And this is a volcanic island, too. It has volcanic ash, which is quite corrosive and wears away materials quite quickly, so we had to overcome these obstacles.

DON WISEMAN: You're working with communities who, for the most part, are living far above their water source.

AP: Yes. The communities are all up on the top of the island, and a lot of that is to do with... it's far more pleasant to live up in the high regions of the islands because you've got a sea breeze, it's cooler, you don't get the mosquitoes that you have around the coastline of the islands. So it's a healthier place to live, but, of course, the disadvantage is to get your water you have to go down into ravines. To get drinking water and cooking water they have to go down into these valleys which, on average, is about half a kilometre walk, and down slippery banks and areas I find very difficult to access, most of them. It's normally the women and children, of course, that get allocated the task of doing that, and that's about two or three times a day they would have to go and collect water, carrying it in containers and buckets, scrambling up banks and that to get back to their homes.

DW: As you say, something you've been working on for the best part of five years. You're about to go back and install this improved prototype.

AP: We've done 14 so far over there already. Now UNICEF who has been monitoring our progress and have seen the success of the designs have come on board and are now supporting us to install a further 19 complete systems. So that will take three years. We've got a three-year period to install the systems. That's not just the pumps, but that's including water tanks and piping systems to take the water as close to the communities as possible. We don't supply taps to every single home, but we supply taps in a group of homes, so that community members can only have to walk 10, 20 metres or so. 'Cause quite often they'll live in groupings of homes, so therefore we'll run it to the centre of that group and they can collect the water from there, which is a big improvement on what they have been doing.