- Written by Ronald Sofe, Research Fellow, Economic Policy Research Program, PNG National Research Institute Ronald Sofe, Research Fellow, Economic Policy Research Program, PNG National Research Institute
At the time of the COVID-19 pandemic which placed handwashing and hygiene at the heart of disease prevention, access to clean water supply and proper sanitation facility is very important. Delivering water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services becomes equally crucial in the effort to curb spread of communicable diseases and promote healthy living.
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), access to improved water supply and sanitation for majority of people in urban and rural areas are a struggle. Data from the United Nation Joint Monitoring Program estimates that of the total country’s population in 2017, only 41 percent had access to safe drinking water while a worrying 13 percent had access to improved sanitation facilities. The implications of poor access to WASH services are very concerning. Poor access to WASH contribute to the incidence of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid, while people are exposed to ominous risk of COVID-19. The household’s productivity, education and employment opportunities can also be constrained.
Given its impact on livelihood, WASH remains a key development agenda. There have been recent initiatives showing great promise in enhancing delivery of WASH services in PNG. A notable one is the National WASH Policy which was developed with a view to provide policy framework that would cultivate and drive positive reforms for cost-effective delivery of quality, safe and reliable water supply and sanitation services. The policy advocates for conceptualisation of District WASH Plan, an essential intervention in coordinating and implementing WASH-related investments at subnational level.
Another significant undertaking is the consolidation of State utilities in WASH sector. The recent merger of Water PNG (WPNG) and Eda Ranu reinforced capacity to provide reticulated water supply and sewerage services throughout the country. In so far as delivery of WASH services is concerned in urban centres, WPNG as State utility, has a very important role to play. To progress expansion of WASH services into peri-urban and rural areas, WPNG could engage with district and provincial administrations to leverage technical skills and planning capacity.
The District Development Authorities (DDAs) with the support from development partners are engaging in the delivery of WASH services in rural schools, health centres and communities. Water tanks, toilets and handwashing facilities are being provided as part of the partnership. This also triggered establishment of District WASH Committee who are championing the WASH service delivery at the subnational level under the guidance of District WASH Plans. It appears that the DDAs are now seeing value in allocating resources to attract opportunities in WASH sector.
Despite the prospects, formidable challenges remain. Case in point is the unfortunate delay in establishment of National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Authority (NWSHA). As a central coordinating body, the NWSHA would be critical in ensuring appropriate regulation, viable partnership and capacity building. In addition, the inherent capacity issues at the district level are inescapable. This is compounded by ongoing financial constraint. Among competing demands for rural development, it will be a daunting task for the DDAs to prioritise funding on WASH activities. Further, it is no secret that existing WASH infrastructure including water mains, reservoirs and waste treatment plant are in dilapidated state throughout the country.
WASH services are indispensable to livelihood. It requires decisive action to prioritise scarce resources to facilitate improvement in delivery of water supply and sanitation facilities. It is high time, all levels of government embrace interventions that promote adequate access to clean drinking water, safe disposal of waste, and decent hygiene practices in households and communities. The capacity to plan and manage WASH projects needs to be boosted. State utility and partners will need to collaborate fruitfully with provincial and district administrations to extend WASH services, particularly in rural areas. Equally, there is urgent need to develop a comprehensive investment plan for rehabilitation of existing infrastructure in order to effectively deliver WASH services.
This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 19 August 2021 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.