As engineers in a developed country I think that we sometimes see ourselves as more advanced than those in developing countries. A recent trip to Papua New Guinea showed me that this is not always true and that they are sometimes better at doing the simple things that we miss.
Many of the rivers in Victoria are in poor condition due to factors such as stock access, close-proximity farming and urban spread. These factors impact negatively on the geomorphology, water quality and downstream usability of the river.
The New Ireland Province in PNG has a population of approximately 120,000. About 90% of the population live in small rural villages and largely survive through subsistence farming. There is minimal infrastructure and no water supply system outside of the main towns of Kavieng and Namatani.
Being an island may have meant fresh water was scarce but the area is lucky to have a seemingly large supply of aquifer water that naturally bubbles up from the ground in rock formations. Most of the population live on the coast and therefore access the water at the outlet to the ocean, the furthest downstream point. For these communities the rivers provide for all their water needs including washing, drinking, cooking, laundry and waste disposal.
On a walk up one river to have a look at the aquifer outlet I was pleased to see the following sign just upstream from the village and covering the area to the headwaters.
From this signboard until 4 km along this river is an enclosed area.
No killing animals
No cutting area for gardens
No cutting trees and forests
No lighting fires
Man or woman who breaks these rules will be arrested.
On my travels around the state I noticed these were located all around New Ireland and subsequently the rivers were all in great condition. What a forward thinking and effective way to protect the local water resources!!
Whilst this may not be possible to implement in our large scale farming and industrial economy I think it is an important lesson that simple but strategic protection of our rivers can go a long way in providing healthy water resources and supply at the local level.