It’s just a little after 2pm and the students’ voices could be heard getting off the island’s only school bus. It’s in the middle of the day, the sky is blazing hot and the heat is quite unbearable in Lomanikaya village in Vatulele.
A few minutes later, the children are seen heading towards the village’s well pushing their wheel barrows or carrying their buckets, bottles and other water storage containers. It is their daily routine to fetch water.
In fact, the only school on the island that offers education for children of the four villages – Bouwaqa, Lomanikaya, Taunovo and Ekubu, is finishing an hour early because of the water woes currently experienced on the island. Because there has been no rain on the island for quite some time, water level in their tanks have receded and children are advised to bring a bottle of water daily to school thus knocking off early is the only option until the water level in the school tanks is restored.
Vatulele is renowned for being the home of the unique Red Prawns (ura-buta) and skillful masi/tapa makers. However, what the world fails to know is the fact that this little island paradise belonging to the Province of Nadroga, is plagued with water woes for as long as people can remember.
There is no stream or river on the island but each of the four villages is fortunate to have well water to supplement the rainwater they store for drinking and cooking. But whenever those tanks dry up or springs run dry when the drought season prolongs, the islanders are left with no other option but to seek Government assistance for water to be carted across by barge to the island.
“Water is scarce on the island and we monitor our water level often. We depend on rainwater and whenever water level in our water tanks decreases due to lack of rain then we take measures and one of them is early break for our children,” Lomanikaya village headsman, Jiuta Boniu said.
“Unlike other villages, we have only one well (spring water) in Lomanikaya and we use that to do our laundry and for bathing. People on the island rejoice whenever it rains and we fill whatever we can fill at that time. Water tanks and water storage are precious for us because when we have the opportunity, we fill them up and store them not knowing when the next rain will come.”
Because water is an essential need for survival and water storage is a need on the island, the Adventists Development Relief Agency (ADRA) Fiji donated water containers in all four villages. This donation is part of the Tropical Harold Response – a project funded by the Latter-Day Saint (LDS) Charities and implemented by ADRA Australia through ADRA Fiji that saw 400 WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) kits which included jerry cans, water filters and bucket with lids handed over to the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) as assistance after TC Harold. The assistance was distributed in affected areas of Tailevu North, Kadavu, Suva, Navua and Ba.
In Vatulele, the 95 jerry cans with a carrying capacity of 20 liters, were handed over to the Fiji Disable People’s Federation (FDPF) which they distributed on the island a fortnight ago to people living with disabilities.
53-year-old Joana Kaseti is constrained by her physical disability and depend on her children and grandchildren to fetch water for her. Her Bouwaqa village is not spared by the drought and the villagers have been collectively working to preserve water in their water tank to last them, at least, until the next rain on the island.
“I am thankful to ADRA Fiji and the FDPF for this assistance. The water storage container is a need for us living in Vatulele. It hasn’t been raining for a while and all our Rota Water Tanks have dried up so we are relying on the main cement water tank for the village to get our drinking water and water for cooking,” Ms Kaseti said.
“We are now given only 2 days a week to fill up our water and we find whatever can be filled to store our water. With think water container, it will be really utilized to store our drinking water.”
The need for water storage on the island is high that some resort to re-using kerosene and oil containers to store water.
Alini Gonewai, 65, is also physically disabled and finds it difficult to fetch water for drinking and bathing. The next well from her Ekubu village home is about 25 meters and she receives help from her son. With the water container received, she was thankful as it will be used to store her drinking water.
“This is exactly what I have been wanting to have- a proper storage for my drinking water. It is big enough to store my drinking for a week or so and I don’t need to keep going outside to get my water every now and then,” Ms Gonewai said.
“We keep containers, bottles and whatever can be used to store water for storage which also includes kerosene and oil cans. We usually clean it thoroughly so thank you FDPF for helping your members as well as ADRA Fiji for thinking of us with this water storage container.”
ADRA Fiji TC Harold Response Project Manager Inosi Yabakivou said the assistance offered to affected areas was simply to improve their quality of life by using the distributed WASH kits.
Apart from the 400 households that received their kits as part of the project, 300 households also received psychosocial support through agreement with the Methodist Church and Empower Pacific.
Mr Yabakivou revealed that they are ADRA Fiji is currently liaising with the Ministry of Education for learning materials to assist children in areas that were affected by the TC Harold.
Meanwhile, other assistance to NDMO that were part of the WASH kits also included washing soap bars, bathing soaps, sanitary pads and hygiene packs.