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Nauru trying to combat water levels and safety issues


Water and sanitation issues in Nauru are complex and challenging.

Drought, demands on diminishing supplies of fresh water and pollution from poor sanitation on ground water supplies are among the issues confronting policy makers today.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Haseldon Buraman, Nauru's National Integrated Water Resources Management Coordinator


BURAMAN: As you're probably all aware Nauru is no different from any other atoll island where water is very scarce and very limited so the policy itself will actually align a lot of these issues put in place ... is going to be responsible and doing work and how we can actually more properly manage our limited water resource. And also whatever natural resource we have right now Nauru doesn't really have any surface water. The only natural water supply is on the end of ground water, but very limited due to high contamination of fecal and other e-coli. And the other problem is we are heavily reliant on these diesel powered or energy consuming reverse osmosis that actually produce our drinking water, and mainly that's it. Nauru is more in trouble when it comes to drought. The drought itself puts Nauru in a very awkward position where I don't think there will be any other sources of ... in Nauru. Like I said the policy itself does provide support and it's indicating the government itself is going to address something that has been outstanding from its history in Nauru. So this is exactly the first time where I would say the government and the communities are all coming together and starting to realise how important our resource is, and there should be action in taking management of it.

COUTTS: Well as you say Nauru's amount of water that they have is critical. What are you doing about that, I mean what happens in the next drought for instance? What are you doing to make sure that that doesn't impact on the people of Nauru?

BURAMAN: Ok the reason why we're really focussing on the ground water is because we're trying to encourage constructive use of the ground water with our production of drinking water from the reverse osmosis. But in order to do that we actually trying to get people to understand the basics of the ground water. Back in 1998 to 2000 where we experienced a three year drought. Nauru did actually face a problem then but nobody realised the exact extent of that problem. Because like I said Nauru relied on reverse osmosis to produce its drinking water. Back during that three-year drought the thermal energy plant went out of service and there's no other water supply for Nauru. And in the end actually people relied on the ground water but without the knowledge of what's in that particular water. But they had no other choice but that, that's it, extract that water, but they didn't realise what's in that water and the extraction itself is actually encouraging salinity to be produced more.

COUTTS: So the desalination plant has gone out of operation. You're not getting another one or having it repaired?

BURAMAN: No, no actually we have three reverse osmosis currently working in Nauru, they're producing about 360 kilo litres altogether, that's about 120 days. But now and then like I said preparing Nauru to actually facing the drought period, there are challenges where producing the drinking water coming out if you're going to rely on reverse osmosis what happens if those machines break down or there's no fuel for them? So in the end actually the people in Nauru become very worried in terms where they won't have that quality drinking water, but they will have to tap the only thing they can tap is that limited water lens underground, but that itself have some problems as well.

COUTTS: Well how great a source is the water lens, it is being polluted?

BURAMAN: It is actully being polluted, back in 2010 with the assistance from SOPAC High Course program they did a ground water survey for the entire island and producing a report alerts that the ground water itself is highly contaminated with fecal contamination. So this is actually from the poor design of the sanitation system, which ... did not network so every house has got its own more like cess pits, they're not septic tanks. And the average soil depth for Nauru is around three to four metres, and these cess pits have been dug at around two metres in depth, so there's not much filtering actually going into the sanitation systems.

COUTTS: Well what sanitation system would work on Nauru then given these condtions and the contamination of the water lens?

BURAMAN: I would like to say it's big thanks to Geoff (?) original funding program because it's giving us the opportunity to do a demonstration and look at our options on what other systems we think should be able to withstand the problem or able to limit the problem we're creating now. So what we've done is more like a medium short-term thing is actually is we just introduce standard conventional septic tanks right now, which doesn't really change anything, but at least the waste water is being contained in enclosed systems. But besides that we have also introduced the dry composting toilet, which wasn't accepted at first but it seems as we promote the impact of climate change and its impact to our limited ground water, it's started to pick up now at the community level where people are starting to make enquiries into the compost toilet. It's very similar to what Tuvalu and some of the other regional countries are doing right now. So we go down ... but I myself will give it the thumbs up where the dry composting toilet is becoming more the thing, and I would recommend it as a ... system, it's probably the best solution for Nauru in the near future.

COUTTS: And are you having to import water in the meantime?

BURAMAN: Not really, we used to back in those days Nauru used to rely heavily on imported water, but now with the technologies coming in where they've got these compact size reverse osmosis, now we're heavily reliant on this. But the problem is they're consuming a major chunk of our energy being produced through our diesel generators. But beside that through another project we are hoping that another reverse osmosis machine will be coming in very soon for Nauru, and hopefully we should be able to produce more for the demand of water in Nauru.

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