Now that we have more water, we can wash our hands frequently
When COVID-19 hit Papua New Guinea during its global onslaught in early 2020, a major challenge faced many hard-to-reach communities in the country, a lack of access to sufficient safe water for regular handwashing.
When COVID-19 hit Papua New Guinea during its global onslaught in early 2020, a major challenge faced many hard-to-reach communities in the country, a lack of access to sufficient safe water for regular handwashing, an important way to prevent the disease from spreading.
Kameng Community in Hagen Central in the Western Highlands Province was an example of such a community.
Fortunately, Kameng is one of 20 vulnerable hard-to reach communities that have benefited from the European Union funded Klinpela Komuniti Projek implemented by UNICEF across four PNG districts that has brought safe water to over 10,000 people using gravity-fed systems.
As elsewhere in Papua New Guinea’s highlands region, most things in Kameng, including water, must be carried for long distances over steep mountains.
Drinking water in this region is usually available either down in valleys, from where most people normally obtain it, or way up on steep mountain tops where rarely anyone ventures to get it. This makes water a scarce resource in the community.
“Bringing water to our homes was a backbreaking effort,” says Ruth Data, a housewife. “And because most times we rarely had much of it, we mainly used it for drinking, cooking and for some cleaning. Oftentimes we didn’t have enough water to go around for many other needs such as regular handwashing.”
The community had two small, unprotected spring wells from which villagers, mainly women and children, fetched water for household use after a long steep descent down the valley to bring the precious commodity back home.
Thanks to Klinpela Kommuniti Projek, the heavy burden of spending hours every day to fetch water, has become lighter and more water is now available to support household chores such as cooking, handwashing, bathing, and washing with enough to spare for other hygiene needs such as regular handwashing, which until recently was out of reach.
Following the construction of 14 water points that provide water from a mountain top source through a network of pipes using gravity, safe water is now nearer to most households including the Kameng Primary School.
Before these water points were installed, most of the school’s 600 students used to have to walk down the valley, half a kilometer away, for drinking water at one of the community’s two unprotected spring wells when school rainwater tanks were empty.
“We now have constant running water and don’t have to worry that water from the tank will run out, especially during the dry season,” says Kameng Primary School Deputy Head Teacher, Mayverlyne Witi.
The school has two water points near the toilet facilities – one for the girls and another for the boys, for handwashing after using the toilet and at any other time as needed. Another water point is near the classroom which is used by the students for drinking water.
Thanks to the ready availability of safe water, the school and community have become much happier and healthier places. Children are more able to focus on their studies and their families are able to spend more time on productive work as they spend less time on collecting water. As for Kameng, the new water supply has helped both the school and the community become both cleaner and healthier places.