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Common tap diplomacy: Addressing Port Moresby’s water woes

A dribbling tap in HanuabadaBUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO

LACK of access to water in Port Moresby is the result of a number of factors chief amongst which is the rapid rural urban drift that has led to a population explosion.

City planning has dragged behind population growth putting enormous pressure on existing infrastructure.

Along with illegal squatter settlements, the city’s water woes are a clear examples of these capacity constraints.

There are communities such as Erima that have not been able to access water on a consistent basis for many years. Eda Ranu, the water company responsible for supplying water in Port Moresby, blames illegal water connections for this state of affairs.

Instead of completely disconnecting the flow of water into these settlements, Eda Ranu  - as a responsible citizen - has adopted what I term common tap diplomacy.

This entails the setting up of taps at strategic points where surrounding communities can access water at certain times.

The community does not pay for this; perhaps the National Capital District Commission subsidises the cost. Or maybe it’s provided as cross-subsidies from well-to-do taxpayers or as part of Eda Ranu’s community service obligation.

Regardless, it is the right of every human being to have access to clean, treated and healthy water. On that note both Eda Ranu and NCDC have to be commended for providing water to the disadvantaged communities.

However, is common tap diplomacy the way to go in addressing the city’s water woes? Living in Port Moresby, by now all of us should realise that water is no longer a free good but its availability has to be paid for.

Recently, local political leaders prioritised the provision of water as one of their key policies. Justin Tchatencko and Labi Amaiu have come good with their promise, making payments to Eda Ranu to re-connect water in communities within their respective electorates.

They have boldly announced that water will be supplied without interruption and there is even hope that water will run into houses where pipes are still in existence.

Yet it looks certain that common tap diplomacy will still be the guiding principle in delivering water to communities.

It is easy to say that all houses in the settlements should be connected with their own water meter so they are responsible for their water use. However, lacking essential data such as section and allotment numbers, it is very difficult to monitor and track water usage.

Formal property titles would allow entities like Eda Ranu to track payment for the use of water and subsequently reduce waste.

Common tap diplomacy has a place in most PNG urban societies characterised by low incomes and high unemployment but over time it will have to be replaced with the installation of individual water meters.

Providing water through common taps can work only if every individual or family within a community takes equal responsibility for paying their dues.

However, in most settlements, there is a high possibility that the number of rate payers are outnumbered by non-rate payers. Unfortunately, when it comes to water, it is often the case where the majority takes advantage of the few honest rate payers.

Also when people responsible for collecting rents from the community to pay Eda Ranu misuse the money, the community is discouraged from paying.

Common tap diplomacy can only work if there is community commitment to take ownership of the service. For instance, if the youths in a particular community vandalise pipes and common taps, then the community needs to act responsibly by handing the culprits to the police or demanding some form of restitution from their families.

If leaders charged with collecting rents steal the money, they should be referred to the police or replaced with someone who is more competent and transparent.

Failure to act upon such problems usually leads to further problems and eventually the community at large is unfairly penalised.

At this juncture, all forms of negotiation and diplomacy are of no use so what can the government do?

The only possibility is to take a hardline approach to bring order into communities and the city as a whole.

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