Last month, World Water Day highlighted the interconnectedness of water with our jobs and everyday lives. Like Australia, PNG is highly vulnerable to unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather conditions. Here, Chloe Hickey-Jones, explores water security and management in Australia and PNG and the challenges of service delivery.

Building a water catchment in PNG. Photo: Flickr/Australian Department of Defence

World Water Day was hosted on the 22nd March 2016. It sought to raise awareness about the interconnectedness of water with our jobs and everyday lives. The WaterAid report, released in March 2016, found that 60% of Papua New Guinean’s do not have access to an improved water source (water that is free from contamination and safe for consumption). Communities in rural parts of PNG have to walk up to four hours daily to collect water or purchase water for drinking and cooking from private vendors. Comparatively, PNG is the most expensive country in the world to buy water from utility companies. When available it costs on average AU$3.25 for 50 litres of water in PNG but only AU$0.15 for 50L from a pipe supply in Australia.

Like Australia, PNG is highly vulnerable to unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather conditions. From mid-1996 to 2010 Australia experienced over a decade of prolonged and severe drought. Now labelled the Millennium Drought, Australia underwent regulatory reform on water usage and management in order to combat the drought effectively and generate a culture of conservation. On the subject of water trading reforms and conservation actions in Australia, global water expert, Harvard Professor John Briscoe stated the reforms were ‘an achievement of global significance as human communities across the world respond to a changing climate.’

PNG has also experienced extreme drought, most recently in 1997-98 and 2015-16. In the late 1990s PNG experienced severe food and water shortages and required international assistance for replanting of seeds and distribution of emergency supplies. The current drought has attracted similar international attention but the government has not called on international assistance for food aid as yet. Instead, the country has relied on district service improvement programs for emergency funds and water supply deliveries from NGOs like CARE and Oxfam.  The Sirinumu dam that supplies Port Moresby has sat at critical levels for several months now. Whilst it has been raining in many parts of the country recently, the struggle is not over and irrigation, agriculture, manufacturing and consumption have placed considerable strain on already depleted water supplies in PNG.

The WaterAid Report mentioned above discusses how access to clean and safe water is the global foundation for food security, sustainable urbanisation and climate security. In 2011 in Australia  93% of houses are connected to water mains, as well as 28% of houses utilising grey water and 26% of houses had installed a rainwater tank. According to CSIRO, Australia has sufficient water resources to support its current uses and population; however this has not translated into even distribution. High year-to-year variability of rainfall and runoff means some areas of Australia are over-allocated and others have limited access to water and face difficulties in managing water sources.

One example that continues to be a challenge is the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). 6 governments have responsibilities for the MDB including, the federal government, Australian Capital District, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australian and Victorian governments. Despite trans-boundary and inter-governmental water management plans irrigation, agriculture and ecosystems have been pushed to the point of collapse, particularly in the Lower Lakes regions in South Australia due to changes in land management practice, salinity and pollution.

In Australia overall, reductions in domestic use of water have been successful due to conservation methods employed during the last drought which resulted in little to no rainfall for over 15 years. Yet despite the initial successes due to water trading, critics believe recent reform has slowed and that high demand from irrigation and agriculture, unpredictable rainfall, bushfires and climate change are all risks to future water security in Australia.

In PNG, the National Water Supply and Sewerage Act 1986 established two state owned enterprises – Water PNG who are responsible for the provision of water throughout PNG and Eda Ranu who are solely responsible for water management in the National Capital District. Since this act was ratified, PNG has undergone little to no regulatory reform for water or waste management resulting in limited access to water, pollution, lost productivity and health consequences. WaterAid linked 800 child deaths from diarrhoea annually to poor sanitation and water supply in Papua New Guinea. Inadequate funding, low priority status, limited coordination by the actors involved and geographical complexity have resulted in high service delivery costs for water in PNG.

As the driest continent in the world (apart from Antarctica), Australia has done well to remain proactive and diligent in its resourcefulness in its fight to secure water. Given this positive track record, Australian aid should provide better targeted assistance in helping to improve PNG’s access to water in the future. There are valuable lessons and ideas that could be shared to ensure future water security in the region.

The above is simply a brief overview, to find out more about water security in PNG and Australia check out these links below:

  • Read the 2016 United Nations World Water Development Report to find out more about the linkages between water and jobs. This year’s theme for World Water Day.
  • This interactive map shows 100 years of drought and flood in Australia.
  • This CSIRO book ‘Water: Science and Solutions for Australia’ examines Australia’s water availability, current uses and future solutions in depth. The whole book is available online here.
  • ABC reports that the Darling River is costing irrigators and farmers thousands of dollars a week in treatment as salt levels and PH levels increase due to water stagnation in the drying river.
  • This article highlights some successful Australian start-ups that are helping to generate innovate solutions to water management and pollution reduction.
  • This short history compiled by the National Water Commission provides more information regarding water markets and water trading reforms in Australia.
  • In case you missed it, Jonathan Pryke and I wrote a piece that examined the current drought in PNG more in depth in February.
  • WaterAid’s report ‘Water: At what Cost? The State of the World’s Water 2016’ offers global cost comparisons for water the world over.
  • LoopPNG summarise World Bank report findings from 2015 on water and sanitation exploring the detrimental impact lack of sanitation facilities in informal settlements in PNG has on overall health and wellbeing.
  • Read the World Bank report Unsettled: Water Sanitation in Urban Settlements in the Pacific summary or access the full report here.
  • In this podcast, Paul Nichols, Chief Executive of WaterAid calls for Australia to help PNG provide access to clean water and sanitation.
  • The team from Devpolicy write that Pacific countries are still struggling to provide safe water, examining how Australia can better assist the region to ensure better water security via water management strategies and climate financing.
  • Lastly, Michelle Rooney summarises her PhD findings and sheds light on the difficulties faced by the population of Port Moresby including water scarcity and accessibility.

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About the Author

Chloe Hickey-Jones - Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute - Lowy Institute

Chloe Hickey-Jones

Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute

Chloe Hickey-Jones is an intern in the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute. Chloe has a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Honours) from the University of Sydney where she majored in Government and International Relations. Chloe grew up travelling between Australia and Lae in PNG, where her interest in Australian policy in the Pacific Islands region developed. In her internship at the Institute she assists with research on the issues of corruption and development in Papua New Guinea.