Recently in Fresh water supply Category

Dealing with Drought: Mitiaro Island

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One of the things we've learned at Seacology is that all islands, however similar they may seem, each face a unique set of challenges. Some islands in the South Pacific, for instance, get all the rain they can handle. But in Mitiaro, a 12-square-mile island in the north-eastern end of the Cook Islands, they can't get enough.

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During Mitiaro's dry season (typically from June to November) the island's 200 residents must rely on reserves they store in water tanks. When they suffer droughts -- as is the case right now -- they may have to resort to dipping into the island's natural resevoirs, the pristine fresh-water pools found in remote caves.

But even that isn't so simple, since just getting to the pools can be challenging and dangerous. One cave requires that you climb down a tree and then navigate steep, slippery rocks before you reach the water.

Our project in Mitiaro addressed both these issues. In exchange for the conservation of 3,000 acres of forest (roughly a third of the island!) we funded the installation of a safe pathway with handrails to the cave pools, plus the renovation of eight 10,000 gallon water tanks (pictured below).
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Water, Water Everywhere...

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Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers worldwide join together to raise awareness about an important issue. This year's topic is water, and nothing could be more relevant to islands! Even though islands are surrounded by oceans, they are plagued by problems resulting from not enough--or too much--water. 

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Seacology's field representatives, which act as the Seacology's ambassadors in some of the most remote islands of the world, are an extremely important part of what makes our work so effective. Ferdie Marcelo, who represents Seacology in the Philippines, maintains a lively blog about his adventures. His latest post (below) describes one of Seacology's newest projects--providing a small community called Sitio Lubo with a micro-hydro power generator in support of the protection of 6,178 acres of watershed forest.  But this post only scratches the surface of Ferdie's amazing experiences working with Seacology. Be sure to check out Ferdie's other blog posts on his website.


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Sitio Lubo is at a cusp. Economic activity is on the upswing, but  infrastructure support is not keeping up. Farms are yielding sacks and sacks of corn and peanuts, but the far upland community is not being served by the power grid running through the Municipality of Lake Sebu, water is tapped from the many waterfalls through makeshift  flexible hoses, and the roads are so bad that mud is 3 to 4 feet deep in many sections. On one hand, coal mining companies have offered to fix the roads, provide electricity and even scholarship programs, in  exchange for rights to extract coal from the area. On the other, Seacology and its partners, Yamog, MISEREOR, and AMORE have offered to provide renewable energy through micro-hydro power in exchange for the community's commitment to protect their watershed. The community chose renewable energy.

Barangay Ned is the biggest barangay in the Municipality of Lake Sebu. 
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With a total area of 21,246.27 hectares, it is likely also the biggest barangay in Mindanao, if not the whole country, in  terms of land area. Sitio Lubo, one of some 30 sitios in Barangay  Ned, has a total area of 7,345 hectares, 2,500 hectares of which is part of the Kabulnan Watershed Forest Reserve. The climate is cool, a consequence of the 900 meter average elevation.

We arrived in the village on September 10, 2010 at about 3:30 pm  after an hour and a half ride on a pick-up truck, which took us from the General Santos City airport to the Municipality of Sto. Nino, and another 4-hour ride on a motorcycle up the southern Tiruray Highlands after a quick early lunch. We were supposed to have met with the community leaders at about 5:00 pm, but the meeting was preempted by an unscheduled PTA assembly at the Lubo High School on Responsible Parenthood, precipitated by an incidence of teenage pregnancy. We had to reschedule the following  day. Just as well. Ridingtandem on a motorcycle as it sloshed for hours uphill through thick mud and loose rock took a lot more from me than I expected. I was tired.

Sitio Lubo residents  generally rely on kerosene for lighting and fuel wood for cooking. A few households lease solar power home systems from a cooperative for P220 a month - pretty steep considering one unit can only power 3-4 lightbulbs per night. Still fewer households have small 3-kilowatt gas-fed generators, which provide enough power for several lights, a television set, and a satellite dish antenna. Gil Bopas, who graciously fed us and put us up for the night, is one of the latter.

Owners of a corn farm, corn mill and a sari-sari store, Gil Bopas and  his wife Josephine, who teaches at the Lubo High School, are one of the more affluent members of the community. But  they too are looking forward to the promise of clean energy from the micro-hydro because it would mean 24-hour electricity for their appliances without having to buy fuel all the way from municipal centers like Sto. Nino. There are simply no gas stations in these mountains.

Lubo High School itself owes much of its facilities from the local PTA. Its 12 computers were provided by the PTA, and the generator that powers them was also solicited from the PTA. Internet connection and fuel for the generator? Monthly PTA dues. In a sense, the community seems to have been left to fend for themselves, but it also seems that they are doing a pretty decent job at coping as well.


Though Karla wrote about a great blog entry about climate change a few months back, the topic is on my mind and in the news. Yesterday, the Pacific Islands Forum convened in Cairns, Australia. This article details how leaders of seven small island nations met in advance of the forum to express their concerns over the immediate threats related to climate change, and to urge leaders of developed nations to take an aggressive stance in slashing greenhouse emissions.

I recently compiled a list of the threats that small islands face due to climate change. The threats range from the obvious - coastal inundation, intrusion of salt water into fresh water drinking supplies and crops, extreme weather events - to the less obvious, yet still potentially devastating effects - damaged crops and unpredictable harvest rates, decline in fish populations due to coral bleaching and mangrove loss, increase in vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria, economic insecurity and decreased tourism revenue, and cultural tensions as communities are forced to relocate. On a visit to Seacology projects in Yap, Micronesia in 2007, local leaders told me of their worries regarding the likely migration of communities from an outer atoll to the main island, where resources are already stretched. While in Vanuatu in June 2009, residents spoke of disappeared coastal landmarks and boundaries, inundated by sea water.

When the Water Cooler Runs Dry

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Last month at the office, the water cooler ran out and we had to wait three days for a fresh supply. To avoid the dreaded tap water, I brought two water bottles to work, filled with filtered water from home. This got me thinking about how this ubiquitous office perk is such a big deal, while we in the US have perfectly safe tap water. In fact, Seacology has provided 14 fresh water delivery systems to communities that do not have safe and reliable sources of drinking water.

Flooded Water Pump.jpgIn many places around the world, safe water is impossible to find. When I lived in Samoa, the campus had a filtering system and we boiled or treated our water with iodine. It wasn't as dire as in Uganda, where I brushed my teeth with mouthwash instead of water. And travelers can barely touch an ice cube or fruit juice in countries like Mexico and India. The picture at right illustrates one of the problems water shortages can cause: here, a boy in West Bengal, India is pumping water in a flooded area. The Water Encyclopedia says that "floodwaters can contaminate cisterns and improperly designed wells, compounding problems caused by river currents and inundation." And yet here in the United States, we hardly consider what it would be like to live without our tap water - and we still buy expensive bottled water because "it tastes better" or we like the commercials or the pretty packaging.

This year Seacology launched our first project in Kenya, on Wasini Island, where there is no known natural source of fresh water.