HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 585: 12 October 2011

Ministry mobilises to address drought in the North
While several Pacific Island countries continue to receive international aid and assistance as a result of the latest La Niña weather pattern causing severe drought, the northern group of the Cook Islands continues to struggle with their own water shortage issues.
A series of meetings were held last week by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning (MOIP) who coordinated with other agencies across a range of sectors within the community in order to address the water shortage issues the country is facing. The Cook Islands Red Cross Society was involved in these meetings and a spokesperson for the organisation said that the priority is on capturing rainwater and increasing the storage capacity of rainwater, as well as diversifying sources used for fresh water to include sources such as freshwater lenses. A lens is a source of fresh groundwater often found on small coral or limestone islands and atolls where fresh water sits above more dense salt water.
An increase in rainfall is what is needed most, however, particularly for Penrhyn Island who is at a high risk of running out of fresh drinking water completely. Islanders have been drinking nu and using the soft flesh for cooking. The Cook Islands Meteorological Service has predicted a likelihood of below-average rainfall conditions from now through to the end of November for Penrhyn.
The United Nations (UN) Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) has identified solar powered desalination units as part of longer-term mitigation measures against future droughts, however there are no plans at this stage by government to implement desalination units on any of the northern group islands.
The Pacific Environment Community (PEC) fund, which is funding the $1.25 million solar energy project in Rakahanga, was established to support projects with a focus on the provision of solar power generation systems, as well as sea water desalination plants. Policy Advisor Repeta Puna reported that the remaining PEC funds have been earmarked for solar power projects only. “We’re looking at approximately $2.3 million to convert Pukapuka, Nassau and Suwarrow [to solar energy]. The remaining funds, which are basically about $700,000, would go towards Manihiki.” New Zealand Aid has committed to funding the completion of the conversion to solar energy for the remaining northern group islands.
When questioned on whether there were plans to set up desalination units, Puna commented that this was not a priority at this stage. “They [government] have actually pegged their priority on renewable energy so that’s where we’re going... Almost all the countries [applying to the PEC fund] went for renewable energy rather than desalination plants. So desalination apparently is secondary to renewable.”
Climate change predictions indicate that there will be more acute La Niñas in the future, leaving the Cook Islands at a high risk of increasing drought situations. Managing water resources sustainably will be a vital part of managing this increased risk, with all members of the community encouraged to take a proactive approach to water conservation. -Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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