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Good, quality water is key to the health of a community, said Australia-based engineer Peregrine Tonking, a fellow at the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
Tonking was the keynote speaker at the Guam Waterworks Authority annual regional water and wastewater conference. Tonking had recently completed a 12-month assignment to help transform the utilities board in Kiribati, a chain of atolls in the Pacific with few fresh water resources.
“Without good quality water, you have poor health, you have a diabolical situation on your hands,” Tonking told The Guam Daily Post.
About 50,000 people live in the capital, South Tarawa – a land mass of just about 6 square miles. The area has no high rises and doesn't have much development, but it maintains a high-density population. Residents live in grass huts and small block buildings, Tonking said. The majority of people don't have access to potable or well water.
“That puts tremendous pressure on resources so it's even more important to have utilities that are properly established in serving the community,” he added.
The utility was extremely run down when Tonking first arrived on Kiribati. Assets were beyond their technical life span and people were demoralised because of poor service to the community. The utility also had little support from the government in terms of subsidies and recovery.
Tonking and his team developed a three-pronged strategy to fortify the utility in the short term. The first was to “clean up” the business. This involved literally removing garbage and other refuse piled up in various facilities but also building lines of authority within the working groups of the utility. They had also improved revenue collections from the sale of electricity. Water services had been deemed by the Kiribati government to be free of charge.
Tonking also focused on safety for the community and personnel with regard to the assets and infrastructure of the utility. Lastly, the team focused on conservation.
“There's a tremendous amount of pressure in the water reserves there. There's almost not enough water for the community there,” Tonking said.
More than 40 percent of the community don't have access to a sewage system, toilets and other aspects of proper sanitation. Only 65 percent have access to electricity. A large portion of the population lives in poverty.
“They don't necessarily have access to the utility the way you have them in Guam. ... That's purely because the infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth of the population within the area. Also, there's not been a large amount of care applied to the utilities,” Tonking said.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to apply some very simple, some very straightforward business leadership into the utility so they can change the way they perform and better serve the community.”
The two-part annual conference ends Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Guam. It is a precursor to the annual Regional Island Sustainability Conference hosted by the University of Guam. The sustainability conference will begin April 19.
SOURCE: THE GUAM DAILY POST/PACNEWS
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